In the midst of a busy conference, I was thinking about this blog post. I was a bit sad, because this year’s Policy Conference marks the end of my 18-month experience as a Leffell Israel Fellow with AIPAC. I was going to reflect on my two policy conferences, trip to Israel, and relationships with fellow rabbinic students from 7 campuses. All of these travels and interactions have broadened my horizons, made me think, helped me to define and shape my values, and will make me a better Rabbi. I have learned about AIPAC, seen how it functions, and thought about how I can use it in my future rabbinate. I have really had an incredible experience as a Fellow, and I am grateful.
And then, I attended the general session at which the Republican presidential candidates spoke. I did not walk out. I sat in the room, because it is not AIPAC’s fault that a racist, arrogant (I could go on and on) extremist is a contender for President of the United States. Who knows, I may have congregants who are Trump supporters one day. While he was speaking, I read a text sheet about dignity and integrity that the Reform Movement had provided me. And after the session was over, I felt disgusting. I felt physically dirty. Trump’s words (and Cruz’s, too) had made me feel nauseous and gross. And so did the reaction of the crowd. Trump got tons of applause, and multiple standing ovations for saying terrible, baseless, even non-sensical things, including words against President Obama. That was the truly scary part. How could thousands of Jews stand and applaud for that man? I began to doubt everything. For over a year, I’ve worked to learn about AIPAC, and support it. I believe its mission is important, and I’ve tried to give it a good name to my classmates and non-Jewish friends. After that session, I wanted to throw that all out the window. I went to bed that night feeling disheartened, hopeless, frightened and sad. I wanted to support and advocate for Israel with all my heart, but I did not want to be in the same group as those people who had stood for the very things that Jews are supposed to stand against.
The next morning, AIPAC leadership came onstage at the general session and made a statement that they did not condone attacks against the current President of the United States. This statement was unprecedented. While it did not undo my lingering negative emotions from the previous day, it made me feel better. There is a lot of rhetoric involved with any political group. That statement, and the many notes and articles that came out immediately following the conference about how those who cheered for Trump were not representative of Jews, and even shameful for them, helped me to see that AIPAC does try to be bi-partisan. And it showed me how important it was for me to attend Policy Conference, and be a part of the pro-Israel movement.
As citizens, members of various groups, and humans in general, we care about things. Being a part of AIPAC has shown me how important it is to show up, express ourselves, and advocate for those things. If we leave the room, if we don’t attend, if we don’t raise our voices when things bother us or interest us, we cannot be part of the conversation. And it is crucial to be part of that conversation, especially in today’s world where common human decency and respect are at stake. I was quite inspired when Rabbi Denise Eger, President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, told us how important it is for us Reform clergy and our congregants to go to the AIPAC conference. It made me wonder- what if more liberals had come this year? There would have been fewer people cheering for a terrible man. It is crucial for us to be attendees, and add our Progressive Jewish voices to the mix. If we don’t do it, who will?
By being part of the Leffell Israel Fellowship, and AIPAC, I have been challenged. I have faced difficult questions, both in examining my relationship with Israel, and with fellow rabbinical students from different movements. Interacting with others who have a wide range of views has compelled me to reflect on and strengthen my own identity, and continue to shape my values. I am so grateful to have built connections with rabbinic colleagues from across the movements. I am so grateful to have been forced to grapple with tough questions. I am so grateful that those connections have helped to support me, and given me the strength to not walk away from the tough questions.
If you care about something, read about it, donate to it, show up. If you don’t think you belong, all the more reason to express yourself. Your voice can only be heard if you use it. This Fellowship taught me that my presence- a Reform Jew, liberal, future clergy person, who cares deeply about Israel- matters as part of the conversation. There is great power in community, but only when each of us comes together.