This year, my 16-year old daughter joined me for my third attendance at the AIPAC Policy Conference. As most parents can testify, kids love having alone time with their parents. My daughter is very typical this way, thank G-d.
For the last two years, in my unofficial coverage of AIPAC for The Jewish Press, I focused on the speakers and the political discourse. It’s hard to avoid doing this when you hear endearing lines like “We can move faster alone or further together” or “From Truman to Trump.”
This year, though, I want to highlight a different aspect of the convention: the attendees. Why do 14,000 Jews leave their busy lives each year to come to AIPAC rather than watch the proceedings on YouTube for $36?
There are several reasons. They want to see politicians up close (even though most are watching big screens) testifying to the bipartisan support for Israel. They want to be reassured that rising waves of anti-Semitism are being addressed. They want to see old friends and make new ones. And most importantly, they want to be part of the largest pro-Israel event, recharging the batteries that power one’s love and support for Israel.
With American society so polarized, AIPAC tries to find items we can all agree on. One example is Israel technology that is producing medical miracles all over the world. The tears cascade when you learn that paralyzed people can dance again. When you meet one of the inventors of the gastric video pill cam, you think of a friend or relative who has benefited from this technology. And then there is the vest that utilizes missile technology to “see through the skin,” detecting fluid in the lungs (to avoid heart attacks).
Although attending numerous sessions on healthcare miracles are enough of a reason to come to AIPAC, I believe simply being at AIPAC exposes you to a multitude of miraculous events that point to the presence of G-d in our lives. The best way I can explain this point is by sharing a few unexpected, yet remarkable, events that happened during this AIPAC trip.
It occurred within three minutes of my daughter and I arriving at the opening session of the convention. To appreciate what I am about to share, note that the main ballroom of the Walter Convention Center is set up to seat close to 18,000 people in a very dark room. And yet, as we entered the ballroom and started looking for seats, we immediately ran into my close friend Dr. Matthew Lefferman with whom I attended AIPAC last year as his guest.
The next morning, as we lined up to go through very long security lines before hearing Vice President Pence and former Ambassador Nikki Haley, we introduced ourselves to the couple standing in front of us, Dr. Arnold and Viviane Breitbart. Although we didn’t know them, we were able to see they were from Great Neck because everyone wears name badges that include their city of origin. The Breitbarts asked us if we knew their daughter-in-law. In fact, we did.
Actually, her father, David Gardner, has been my Sunday morning chavrusah for 10 years. He’s also the unfortunate person tasked with shooting videos of my weekly divrei Torah at Congregation Bnai David after Shacharit. I immediately hugged this man as the world became so much smaller, happier, and sensible in just a split second.
This leads me to the third amazing event that happened just a few hours later. We were going to pick up some deli sandwiches (all the food is seriously kosher at AIPAC) and ran into Rabbi Steven Burg who is now the CEO of Aish HaTorah. The miracle is not just that we found Rabbi Burg among 18,000 attendees, but that he and I have been best friends since we met more than 21 years ago in – of course – David and Maure Gardner’s home!
The last mini-miracle happened as we tried to check in online for our flight home. We discovered that I had misread my ticket and our flight had left an hour earlier. As I started sweating profusely from the embarrassment of having to tell my daughter of my mistake and thinking we would be stuck in Washington for another day, I called United Airlines for help.
Not only did the lady on the other end of line offer to switch our flight to a faster non-stop flight, she charged us nothing to make the switch. And the name of the customer support agent that helped us? You guessed it: Miracle. I kid you not. I asked her to repeat it just to make sure.
Ultimately, the miracles we experience are more valuable when we internalize them and transform them into something that impacts our lives and daily commitment to be Jewish and do Jewish.
When thousands of people from all walks of Jewish life come together to support Israel, I will admit that it makes me feel good to be a Jew. When politicians from both sides of the aisle reiterate support for an enduring USA-Israel relationship, it makes me feel good to be an American.
When I walk the halls discovering enchanting and mysterious stories from other attendees who have experienced their own quite miraculous needle-in-a-haystack encounters, it reminds me that someone is watching over us.
Are these mathematically improbable coincidences enough of a reason to attend AIPAC? I’m not sure. But now that I have made a chazakah of going, I suppose I will just plan to be there next year regardless of the reason.
Truth be told, spending a few days with my pro-Israel brothers and sisters is also a pretty good way to assuage the guilt that builds up all year long for still living in America instead of Israel.