In early March, I had the privilege of attending AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference for the first time. I went as a Masa Israel Alumni Fellow and part of the Masa Israel Journey delegation. We were a group of about 30 Masa Israel program alumni who attended the conference to reconnect with Israel, learn more about the current political situation, and encourage others to spend a significant period of time in Israel. I was familiar with AIPAC, due to my involvement with the organization as an undergrad, but Policy Conference was something else altogether.
Attendance at this year’s PC was estimated at 16,000 people. It was by far the largest conference I have ever attended and I was constantly getting lost in the sprawl of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. There were endless sessions to choose from, on every topic imaginable. I particularly enjoyed David Horovitz, founding editor of The Times of Israel’s presentation on elections, as well as former Congressman Barney Frank and former MK Einat Wilf’s discussion about Israel and progressivism. There were also some truly amazing speakers that introduced me to supporters of Israel that I never knew existed. The diversity of people involved with AIPAC, especially at the highest levels, was the biggest surprise of my experience. Their motivations were as varied as they were, from personal experiences, to security concerns, to religious beliefs.
For me, Israel is entwined deeply with Judaism – there is no way to separate the two. Although I have with the politicization of Judaism in Israel, I cannot envision one without the other. Sure, I knew of Evangelical support for the Jewish State, but at Policy Conference I heard from world leaders, African-American businessmen, and Latino church leaders. I met with non-Jewish student leaders at the college seniors fair. It’s easy to forget that others have an interest in Israel’s survival, that Israel is a human concern, not just a Jewish issue.
For me, the highlight of AIPAC was when President Miloš Zeman of the Czech Republic (my new favorite person) addressed the whole conference, on Monday morning. He said something along the lines of: “I am the best friend of Israel. And it is wonderful to be here, with all the other best friends of Israel.”
On Tuesday, I left Policy Conference more secure in the knowledge that Israel is not alone, and the American Jewish community is not alone in our support of the Jewish State. I came back to work with a renewed motivation to do Israel programming, and I am looking forward to bringing more of Israel to my community.