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Local rabbi's perspective of the AIPAC conference


Rabbi Rick Sherwin (Rabbi Rick), spiritual leader at Congregation Beth Am in Longwood, had the privilege of attending the 2014 AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., on March 2-4. The largest gathering of America’s pro-Israel community, the policy conference highlighted the importance of the partnership between the United States and Israel and showcased the two nations’ common interests in making the world a better place. Through demonstrations of groundbreaking Israeli innovations, keynote speeches by leaders from both the U.S. and Israel, educational sessions and interactive exhibits, Rabbi Rick experienced the full scale of pro-Israel activism. Via email messages excerpted below, Rabbi Rick kept the congregation informed of what he heard and saw during the 3-day conference.

Prior to departure: “AIPAC sent a note to all of us who will be in Washington from Sunday through Tuesday, asking that we give respect to every speaker and government representative, regardless of their political affiliation or liberal-conservative leaning. This should be the model for every gathering anywhere the constituency agrees on the long-term goals (such as Israel’s security). We have a tendency to dismiss, put down, and ridicule the ideas of those who disagree with us. The fact is that we all share long-terms goals. We just disagree on the details. Jewish tradition reminds us that each side of a debate reflects the words of the Living God. The side that wins is the one that listens to the other side, articulates the opposition’s point of view, and then presents its own with respect. It is a good model for those who support Israel; it is a healthy model in American government as well.”

Day 1: It was with a sense of privilege that I joined 14,000 participants in AIPAC’s annual policy conference in Washington, D.C. AIPAC is a lobbying group that advocates pro-Israel policies to the Congress and Executive Branch of the United States. Every speaker was treated with respect and appreciation for her/his efforts to support Israel: leftists and rightists in America and Israel, congressional representatives/senators and members of Israel’s Parliament, Jewish activists and Christian supporters, Senator John McCain, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Day 2: One major topic of focus was BDS, the movement of misguided Americans to boycott, divest and sanction Israel for supposed oppression of the Palestinian population. No one seems to condemn Syria for dropping barrel bombs on its own people! Thousands in Syria are being starved to death! Turkey continues to occupy Cyprus, and China occupies Tibet. North Korea is accused by the U.N. of performing crimes against humanity on their own people, Iran publicly hangs government protesters from building cranes, and nearly every Arab Islamist state objectifies and subjugates women. Only Israel is the target of hatred.

Recently the American Studies Association came out in favor of boycotting Israel. When asked why, with so many countries, especially in the Arab world, oppressing their own people, the ASA chose just Israel to boycott, the president of ASA replied, “You have to start somewhere.” What an opprobrious response!

Prime Minister Netanyahu, as well as every speaker agreed: If the only country you want to single out is Israel, that’s blatant anti-Semitism, not any different than any other effort to condemn and exterminate Jews throughout history. He explicitly offered the insight that BDS is really just BS!

Israel’s focus remains to create peace throughout the world based on universal and eternal ideals, whereas many nations focus on everyone else agreeing to be like them.

In the Siddur, the word Or “light” refers to optimism and the light of the future. The biblical prophet Second Isaiah teaches that Israel shall become l’or “goyim” as a source of light for the nations of the earth. His prayer—and our prayer—is that the world will come to see the brightness of future through peace with, in, and for Israel.

Day 3: While the news and network servers focus on Iran, the Palestinians and anti-Semites (often in a favorable light), much of the world pays attention to what Israel offers the world: Better ways to feed the world, to improve health, to rescue lives in military and emergency situations, and to enable people to follow a “normal” daily routine.

AIPAC presented four technological advances from Israel that benefit humanity: TaKaDu developed software to detect water leaks anywhere in the world, thereby saving millions of wasted gallons of precious water.

Yael Hanein Laboratory’s research that led to mapping the “software” of the brain (as opposed to an MRI—also created in Israel—that views the hardware), the neural network, so as to track mental anomalies and processes, including recovery from concussions.

Camero’s device to see through walls, detecting what is on the other side, which enables military forces to identify terrorists and hostages. Imagine what it could mean to firefighters looking to see if people are trapped in closed rooms.

OrCam’s augmented reality glasses that help the severely visually impaired to see by means of a pocketable computer connecting to glasses a $2,500 pair of glasses that can read things for an individual both up close and across the street (including street signs and the color of the traffic light). Imagine a legally blind person being able to shop at a grocery story, read a menu in a restaurant, just sit and read the newspaper, or function in the workplace.

As a point of perspective, Israel has more companies listed on the NASDAQ than any other country in the world after the U.S., and many U.S. companies are looking to take advantage of Israel’s innovations.”

On returning to Orlando: I came back from the AIPAC Policy Conference with new insights on the Middle East, including one critical perspective from Prime Minister Netanyau—neither the settlements nor disputed borders are blocking peace. The only obstacle to peace is the Arabs’ refusal to recognize that a Jewish State should exist. As soon as the “Palestinians” recognize that basic reality, the so-called roadblocks will be easy to remove!

Rabbi Rick Sherwin,

Congregation Beth Am


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