As a synagogue rabbi I try to keep my eyes open to see how or if I can incorporate personal experiences into my weekly Shabbos sermon. Recently, I represented my shul at the Orthodox Union’s (OU) annual mission to Washington, DC (June 14-15). On my way to one of the first events, I joked with a rabbi friend from Charleston, South Carolina that I was hoping to return with some good material for that week’s sermon.
Well, God was good to me, and I returned to Harrisburg with far more material than I had time to share with my shul that Shabbos.
I’d like to describe two distinct impressions I brought back.
Impression one: I felt I had made an investment on behalf of the Jewish people. The mission is an important annual lobbying event by the OU. The goal is to visit many of our elected officials as well as senior members of the administration. This is an opportunity for us to hear from them – but, no less important, to be sure they hear from us.
When a large organization such as the OU approaches our elected officials and speaks on behalf of Orthodox Jewish communities across America, those elected officials listen. Our group had frank conversations with several senior administration members, senators and congressmen.
Efforts such as these partially fulfill our requirement to do our share in helping ourselves and our people, so that we can then to turn to God and ask Him to now do His part in looking after us and our needs.
Impression two: I feel somewhat reassured. I know that may sound odd, especially after we head Ambassador Michael Oren lay out all the threats facing Israel. But the ambassador also painted a vivid picture of how well the Israeli economy is doing and reaffirmed that the relationship between the United States and Israel is one of partners rather than adversaries. (He did add that partners do not always agree on everything, and that’s to be expected.)
But the main reason I returned with a sense of reassurance had to do with many of the remarks I heard from lawmakers who have few Jewish voters in their home districts. Several described how important Israel is to them. Call me cynical, but since they have little need to appeal to Jewish voters, I took their remarks seriously.
I heard Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) describe the strong bipartisan bill in support of Israel he and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) are sponsoring. (Did you know Senator Hatch wears a mezuzah around his neck and tries to read through Tanach each year?)
I heard Sen. John Boozman (R-AK) tell us how many of his constituents back in Arkansas have told him emphatically that he “better not turn his back on Israel.”
I heard Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AK) tell us that though he ran his campaign on cutting the Federal budget, and is extremely passionate about doing that, many of his constituents have told him “to cut as much of the budget as possible – but not to ever cut any U.S. aid to Israel.”
I heard Sen. Lieberman describe how his non-Jewish Zionist friends on Capitol Hill often remind him that there are a lot more Christian Zionists out there than there are Jewish Zionists.
I heard Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) tell us how impressed he and his wife were by their recent first trip to Israel. They were particularly moved by the Shabbos night meal they experienced at the home of their observant hosts, watching a family create a sacred atmosphere and interact so well with one another at the Shabbos table. Seeing their hosts bless their children touched them more than anything else on the trip.
I heard Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tell us emphatically that now that the Palestinian Authority has partnered with Hamas, many senators feel the need for a clear U.S. policy stating that unless the PA cuts its ties with Hamas, all American aid will be cut. In fact, he told us that such a bipartisan bill is in the works.
Finally, I heard from Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC), an up and coming leader in Congress who defies so many stereotypes. He is an African-American Republican with a proud kippah-wearing Orthodox chief of staff.