To answer your first question: No, NORPAC is not affiliated with AIPAC, but you can certainly be forgiven for the confusion. Both organizations are passionate about their advocacy for the State of Israel and both feature the letters P-A-C in their organization’s name. However, despite the similarities, only NORPAC is a political action committee which means that only NORPAC is allowed to fundraise and donate money to U.S. senators and members of congress that share the organization’s belief in a strong and enduring relationship between the USA and Israel (AIPAC is a registered lobbying group, which cannot donate money, and the P-A-C stands for public affairs committee). This distinction is important, explains Dr. Ben Chouake, the president of NORPAC. “The advocacy we do and that AIPAC does is extremely important, but it is also important to help people get elected who are strong on your issues and fundraising is one way to help make that happen.”
NORPAC’s strategy to maintain the historically vital connection between Israel and America is therefore two-pronged. The organization’s flagship program is their annual mission to Washington, a one-day whirlwind of on-the-hill advocacy, but NORPAC also proudly hosts an increasing number of fundraising events for politicians from around the country throughout the course of the year.
Chouake assumed the position of national president in 2000, and over the course of his tenure, the organization has grown from a small New Jersey-centric program that sent 20-30 people to Washington D.C. on its annual mission and hosted one or two fundraisers a year, to a prominent voice for Israel which sends over 1,000 people from all over the tri-state area on the annual mission and hosts 40 or more fundraisers every year. Of course, Chouake doesn’t do it all on his own, and he’s the first to let you know.
“I’m a good cheerleader,” Chouake says, “but the key is to have a great team to cheerlead for.” With only one full-time employee, the indefatigable Avi Schranz, working for the organization, NORPAC relies on the tireless efforts of a small army of volunteers to meet their increasingly ambitious annual goals.
As NORPAC has grown, new thriving chapters have sprung up further and further away from the original chapter in Englewood, NJ. David Steinberg, a highly respected member of the Kew Gardens Hills community, is the president of the Brooklyn-Queens chapter of NORPAC. Steinberg also serves as a mission chair along with Richie Schlussel and Dr. Laurie Baumel. Together the mission chairs organize every aspect of the mission to Washington. The logistics are incredibly complex but important to get right, as consistency in message is vital to a successful mission to Washington.
“You don’t get a thousand Jews walking into Capitol Hill at one time who are all accidentally saying the same thing,” says Steinberg, “everything that happens on the mission requires an incredible degree of planning and discipline.”
Over the course of their one-day mission this year on May 18, the NORPAC volunteers met with 98 senators and over 340 members of the House of Representatives. In some cases, the meetings were hosted by senior members of the congressmember’s staff, but often the congressman or congresswoman themselves sat down with the NORPAC volunteers.
Jeff Schreiber, the logistics chair of the NORPAC mission to Washington, explains how NORPAC’s size provides exactly the type of flexibility that allows for such a successful and unique day of advocacy. “When AIPAC sends 15,000 people to Washington,” says Schreiber, “there is only so much they can do with a group that large. With our 1,000 to 1,300 volunteers we are able to send small groups all around the Hill and we are able to hold all of these incredible face-to-face meetings in the span of one day.”