The AIPAC Policy Conference is the largest gathering of America’s pro-Israel community. We hear about it every year in the news—who arrived and who didn’t, and which important person said what. It always sounds very serious and distant.
In April, seven months into our time as Shinshinim (young Israeli emissaries) in the Jewish community of Greater Boston, we attended the AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C., along with 120 other Shlichim (Israeli emissaries), the largest number ever to attend this conference.
As Israelis, we know the United States and Israel are very well connected. When we got to the conference, we realized that nothing that people would describe would really illustrate what it looked like or felt. Suddenly, we understood and felt the deep connection between Israel and the United States.
From the very first general session, we were amazed—not only was it the largest number of people we have ever seen in one room, but it was the understanding that this room is filled with strong, powerful, huge supporters of Israel!
Yet the most important lesson didn’t come in any session, class or lecture. By witnessing the enormous crowd of 18,000 conference attendees, we realized that Jews in America care deeply about Israel and, more important, that their support should not be taken for granted. They don’t live in Israel or may not even know any Israelis. But they care. Not only do they care, but their support for Israel is active. They donate their money, time and energy, particularly when it comes to raising awareness among their members of Congress about the issues that are crucial to strengthening the State of Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship.
AIPAC is not something to see from television at home, it’s something that you must be there when it happens; you need to feel it and see it. We will not forget this intense experience. We took away new people, knowledge and experiences.
The convention was overwhelming in the best ways. In every hall, we saw people whom we had heard about in the news. Every conversation we had was fascinating and eye-opening. And most important, in each session, we found out new, exciting facts about things that we were sure we already knew everything about—our country, American-Israeli relations, Israel’s supporters around the world and so much more.
These are all things that we’ve been dealing with every day during our Shinshin service, but the convention made us realize that we have so much more to learn, that even one year more would never be enough, and maybe not even our whole lives!
With all the big, influential people there, we thought that being just 19-year-olds in this convention would make us feel small and unimportant, but it was quite the opposite! We have never felt more important—like we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
We felt proud: proud that we were there, proud of our country and especially proud of what we do every day in this amazing year as Shinshinim. We are proud to be giving our own small share, like every other person in the conference, for the sake of our beloved country.
For us, AIPAC was the proof of the strong connection between the U.S. and Israel. Being there, surrounded by people who love Israel and support the State of Israel made us understand better why we are doing shnat sherut (a year of service).
The conference was truly incredible and uplifting. Even with BDS demonstrations going on right outside the building, we have never felt safer. We realized that someone has our back, and that someone is a very large group of powerful American people who are willing to go to a great extent for us and our country.
The AIPAC conference was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Its impact on us will probably last forever, and we hope we’ll be able to explain even half of what it truly meant for us to our friends back in Israel.
During Passover, we are reminded that while many Americans use the Jewish holidays to take time off from work, for Shlichim, those holidays are often our “showtime.” This can be a difficult experience for an emissary, but after a powerful experience like the AIPAC conference, we are infused with extra passion for our roles. Much like American supporters of Israel, we are ready to keep putting in the hard work.
In this way, Shlichut (emissary work) is a two-way street. We bring Diaspora Jews closer to Israel, and they show Israelis unconditional and unwavering support. It is our responsibility together to take care of each other. AIPAC was a wonderful opportunity to engage with people who protect Israel every day. Now, after this extraordinary experience, we are more inspired than ever to build strong bridges between us. We are thankful to CJP’s Boston-Haifa Connection for making it possible for us to be at AIPAC and to share with everyone our love for Israel.