Beyond the Walls of the OJC to the DC Convention Center
Truth is, on a daily basis, there is no where I would rather be than at the Orangetown Jewish Center. My creative energy runs high at the shul, interactions feel profound, learning feels new, and God feels close. My rabbinate makes sense when I am with you in the classroom, my office or the sanctuary.
It is necessary, however, to throw open the windows of our synagogue and look around at the world we inhabit. And it is important to go out into that world to learn about what is going on. If you are with us on Shabbat or in a class, you know that one of the values of the OJC is that our Torah moves from the text to the lives we lead. The lives we lead are fulfilling when we are having an impact on the world: improving families, communities, Jewish organizations and secular institutions. You hear it in our teaching and in our sermons. Find a passion and pursue it! We begin in Torah, but we use Torah to move to issues about Israel, the Jewish world, Conservative Judaism, and social justice.
This past week, I spent time in the wide world beyond Independence Avenue in Orangeburg, New York. I returned today renewed, re-energized and ready to bring all that I learned back to the synagogue. I spent three days with twenty four OJC congregants and 14,000 of our pro-Israel allies at the AIPAC Policy Conference.
At AIPAC, many of the messages resonated with all that I have experienced and learned over eight years of participation in Israel advocacy through AIPAC. Our elected officials on both sides of the aisle unambiguously support Israel as a valued friend. Israeli leadership is grateful to feel the power of our support. People of color and leaders of many faith movements join with us every year to add their voices with ours as important allies in support of Israel. 2300 college leaders, Jewish and not Jewish, join us to state clearly that young people are learning how to advocate for Israel.
The rabbinic leaders of the Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodox streams stood together on the dais and proclaimed, “Jewish life is not about singing in unison but rather in harmony.” Rabbi Steve Wernick, CEO of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism stated, “We are not asserting the perfect nature of Israel. There is no perfect country. But we are here to protect the precious relationship between Israel and America.” The ideal of shared values and creating relationships rings true to all of us who have heard Israel sermons in our sanctuary or traveled to Israel on an OJC trip.
Something new was ringing loud and clear throughout the Policy Conference. We have heard the message before at AIPAC, but now it feels like a central theme ino all that we are doing: Despite being in the middle of seemingly intractable conflicts, Israel is a dynamic country filled with innovators who are improving life around the world. We heard from Israeli scientists, technology gurus, and medical researchers breaking through to new frontiers in medicine, security, communication and economic cooperation. There is another story of Israel being played out and we had an opportunity to feel its power. The Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. had a clear answer to the magnificent success of Israeli progress. Ron Prosor said that the secret is The Jewish Mother who believes that her child is a genius and the world just does not yet know it. So if that child takes a risk and fails, the Mother says, “Just go and try again.” And thus we have the Start-Up Nation! It’s a brilliant theory, no?
There was optimism in the air despite the heaviness of world realities right now. John Kerry said, “When Bibi looks me in the eyes and says, ‘We cannot accept a treaty that does not make Israel safer than she is right now,’ he and I agree 100%.” On Monday morning, Netanyahu was downright buoyant (honestly!). He claimed that Israel must be strong to make peace, but peace will make us stronger.
World events change on the hour and I am no prophet. Three days of learning and advocacy, however, allows me to believe that our Torah will lead us eventually to a stable Israel. As Rev. Dr. DeeDee Coleman shouted to an AIPAC crowd that loves her dearly, “Am Yisrael Chai! The people of Israel live!”
I am grateful to have gone out to learn. I am grateful to return home and share it with all of you.
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill