Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Inspired by AIPAC


It felt like hitting the jackpot. After attending 10 AIPAC Policy Conferences over the past dozen years, I experienced three immensely rewarding moments in Washington earlier this month: 1. Being in attendance during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress, 2. Functioning as group leader in lobbying two of our congressmen and 3. Joining the largest Orlando-area delegation in history. 

A remarkable 68 members strong, Central Florida was represented by an amazing cross-section of people: doctors, lawyers, homemakers, business leaders to name a few. The most gratifying sight, however, was of the nearly two dozen college students at the lobbying appointments. It is the inspiration that I draw from teaching the next generation that gives me a “high” that can only be reproduced by returning each year to Washington. Yes, it is worth putting life on hold for three days (and even bearing the cold weather!) in order to speak with our representatives in a way that results in strengthening the U.S./Israel relationship. The feeling of walking the hallowed halls of Congress to experience what I see as a uniquely American dream of sharing what is in our hearts becomes fresh each year. While I am proud to be an American, this year I was particularly proud to be a Central Floridian.

Thousands of students were among the 16,000 delegates that included Hispanics, Evangelical Christians, African-Americans among many others. Rabbis, priests, ministers, pastors were among those who will be able to spread the word to their congregants. This has ripple effects that influence public opinion (and thus U.S. policy). Ironically, as AIPAC has grown, divisiveness by party affiliation of delegates has never grown.

In addition to lobbying for aid packages that provide for a safer Israel and an economically stronger United States, delegates help bolster Israel’s position in peace negotiations with Palestinians and other neighbors. As we build personal relationships with members of Congress through Policy Conference and local parlor meetings, so grows the U.S./Israel cooperative relationship. At this pivotal moment in history, having congressional backing to prevent a nuclear Iran is more important than ever.

Between the plenary and breakout sessions, I have had the opportunity to learn policy from those making it, and have gained first-hand knowledge of cutting edge Israeli technology from those developing it (via live presentations that make one think of being transformed into the future). I’ve had the opportunity to pick the brains of various industry leaders—often at the conclusion of sessions, or meeting them in the hallway. One recent example was hobnobbing with Brig. Gen. Daniel Gold, the man who conceived and developed Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.  

It was a remarkable moment in history to see Prime Minister Netanyahu make a convincing case to Congress (and really the world) that a bad deal with Iran runs the free world the risk of being threatened by nuclear-armed terrorists. As I sat six seats away from Netanyahu’s wife, the energy was palpable, and the electricity in the room transformed us in ways I never could imagine. Upon leaving the gallery, shaking hands with Elie Wiesel, I realized that as long as there is AIPAC we can feel that a real difference is being made to keep Jews in Israel and around the world more safe and prosperous.

Dr. Mark Klafter is a neurologist and Orlando Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) Israel Subcommittee chairman.


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