AIPAC in the Hood
This past Saturday I was walking around my neighborhood enjoying a beautiful, oddly warm winter day when all of a sudden I heard “Yalla! Yalla!” from a tall Israeli woman behind me. She was screaming at a group of about a dozen young professionals, all of whom seemed to be speaking Hebrew (or english with Israeli accents when they asked me for directions). At night, as I was hurrying to meet friends for dinner, I passed groups upon groups of tourists – mostly looking like members of my extended Jewish family, many of the men wearing yarmulkes and Israeli flag lapel pins.
Now, Washington, D.C. is a very international city – with hundreds of tourists coming every week to visit our beautiful monuments, historic buildings and incredible museums. However, when you start seeing as much “blue and white” as “red, white and blue” – you know AIPAC is in town. Each year thousands upon thousands of people fly in from all over the country (and the world) to attend the American Israel Political Action Committee Policy Conference here in Washington. For four days, the D.C. Convention Center becomes the hub of Israeli and Jewish life in the US – with one friend describing it as “Tel D.C.”
With nearly 14,000 people in attendance this year, it is an increasingly common stop for nearly all politicians — including the President and many of the Republican Presidential candidates – and the leaders of nearly every Jewish organization in the country, including, of course, the Religious Action Center and the Union for Reform Judaism.
Sunday, for the first time ever, the RAC and URJ co-hosted a “Reform Reunion” during AIPAC’s Policy Conference. Throughout the night, more than 200 Reform rabbis, temple leaders and congregants came to mix and mingle, reconnect and recharge after a full day of learning and discussing the Israel-U.S. relationship.
The intimate reception featured brief remarks by Rabbi David Saperstein, executive director and counsel of the RAC, Rabbi Danny Allen, executive director of ARZA, and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president-elect of the URJ. In his remarks, Rabbi Saperstein noted the historic significance of the meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu while Rabbi Allen spoke about how now more than ever, as the issues related to Haredim (ultra-orthodox) make headlines, we must promote the Reform Movement in Israel. And, as we close in on Purim, Rabbi Jacobs made the important point that the story of Queen Esther is one of diaspora Judaism – one of protecting and fighting for the Jewish people in a world where we are a minority, where we live modern lives in integrated and dynamic cultural contexts.
When thinking about Rabbi Jacob’s words, I realized why not only it is important to have an organization like AIPAC helping promote the Jewish state, it is just as important to have an organization like the RAC – working to promote Jewish values in North America – in the diaspora.