Divre Harav – May/17

I’m taking a break this month from my stroll through Pirke Avot (chapter 2) to report on my trip to Washington, DC to attend my first AIPAC policy conference this past March. AIPAC is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Every year, AIPAC supporters gather in DC for three days of sessions featuring speakers on various issues of Israel, such as technology, security, medicine, manufacturing, business, and entertainment. Speakers also include the political leadership of the United States and Israel, although this year we also heard from former leaders in Canada and the United Kingdom as well. AIPAC is a bipartisan organization, whose goal is to develop relationships with each of the 535 members of Congress as well as the Executive branch of the government, regardless of political affiliation.

It was an extraordinary experience to sit in the Verizon Center with 18,000 Jewish and Christian supporters of Israel, young and old and hear from the Democratic and the Republican leadership of both the House and the Senate, as well as the Vice President. I heard from Policy Conference veterans that 10 years ago the conference drew 4000 attendees. This year, there were over 4000 high school and college students alone! Eight years ago, there were 40 people at the lunch for rabbis and cantors; this year, I sat in a room with 900 people.

AIPAC is a phenomenal organization with a very clear mission: To strengthen the US-Israel bond. We learned how foreign aid to Israel supports US manufacturing. We learned how the Israeli defense program makes both Israel and the United States more secure. We learned how Israeli water technology is benefiting the region surrounding Israel and has been an important tool in addressing drought in California. We heard global experts addressing paths and obstacles to Middle East security. And much more.

The final day of the conference is a lobbying day. Many of the participants get on buses to Capitol Hill to meet with their Senators and Representatives. Each year, AIPAC prepares bipartisan materials to focus on a specific legislative agenda to support Israel. This year, we were asked to talk about three issues:

  • • A bill to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities, such as ballistic missile development, strengthening American sanctions against those who support such activities.
  • • A bill to expand existing U.S. anti-boycott laws to international organizations like the United Nations and the European Union which participate in organized anti-Israel boycotts.
  • • Robust foreign aid, which ensures America’s strong world leadership role, and security assistance and cooperative missile defense programs with Israel.

For more information on AIPAC’s legislative agenda, see http://www.policyconference.org/article/Resources.asp. And for a shining example of a powerful address, see this 17 minute video of the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, talking about how she is addressing the UN’s anti-Israel bias – http://video.policyconference.org/watch/toWdJqgHqFigsvr2m1PAE3.

Hebrew Words of the Month:

  • Artzot Habrit (abbreviated in Hebrew, aleph-heh-bet) – United States (literally, “lands of the covenant” or perhaps “States of the Constitution”).
  • Umot Ha-me’uhedet (abbreviated in Hebrew, aleph-heh-mem) – United Nations
  • Nasi – President
  • Rosh Memshallah – Prime Minister (literally, “head of government”)
  • Haver Kenesset – Member of Parliament
  • Haver Congress – Member of Congress

Divre Harav – January 2011

It is easy to fall into the trap of negativity.  Recently, after several colleagues shared some of the more discouraging moments of their rabbinate, another colleague responded with some advice from a member of his congregation, an oncologist.  He said that it would be impossible for him to function if he spent too much emotional energy thinking about the majority of his patients who don’t survive. He focuses on the ten percent or so who make a full recovery.

I’m thinking about this now, as our country is welcoming to Washington DC a new set of Representatives and Senators, most of whom gained office because of a general sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo — the pace of recovery from the economic downturn, and a perceived, if not actual, lack of action addressing the high rate of unemployment.

Our politicians talk about reaching across the aisle and working together towards a common goal, but when a compromise is made, many to the left and the right accuse the moderate centrists of selling out to the other side and betraying the values and principles of their party.

I’m thinking about Representative Justin Amash, who has some pretty big shoes to fill as he takes the seat once held by Vern Ehlers, Paul Wolpe and Gerald Ford (although in his day it was the fifth, rather than the third, congressional district).  Some in the Jewish community are concerned that Mr. Amash’s Palestinian roots might affect his support for Israel.  It is in in our interest, however, as Jews, supporters of Israel, and residents of the third congressional district, to cultivate a good relationship with Mr. Amash.

AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is a non-partisan organization devoted to strengthen the United State’s relationship with Israel.  They work with every member of congress, regardless of party affiliation.  They educate on issues relating to the security and development of Israel and encourage visits to Israel.

They understand that antagonizing our elected officials is not a good way to move them to our side.  Rather, like good parenting, it is more effective to focus on the positive, to praise the successes rather than condemn the failures.

As we welcome the 112th Congress to Washington DC, let us resolve to focus on the successes, not the failures.  Let us be slow to condemn, and quick to praise.  Let us not demonize the opposition.  Let us stick to our principles, but respect those who adhere to a conflicting set of principles.  As the Talmud teaches about the academies of Shammai and Hillel, Hillel was honored and praised for teaching the opinions of Shammai before he taught his own.  Let us be like Hillel, embracing the person on the other side of the aisle with love, rather than casting him out with suspicion.