The Orthodox Union And AIPAC: Protecting Israel, Inspiring the Jewish Future
Rabbi Steven Burg
In my many years at the Orthodox Union, I have made countless trips to Washington in my varying capacities, met Presidents and leading members of Congress and various Administrations, but no trip I ever took has resounded in my soul like my visit earlier this week to attend the annual AIPAC Conference with 13,000 other supporters of Israel, including three-quarters of the members of Congress.
The conference, of course, was dominated by the specter of Iran and its rapid progress to having a nuclear weapon. President Obama, and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, devoted their remarks to the peril faced not only by Israel but by the world if Iran should go nuclear. The impending arrival of Purim – in which the Jews were saved from annihilation in the land then known as Persia and now as Iran -- was an important part of the atmosphere as we listened to the speeches. As important as the world leaders’ remarks were, it was the presence and attitudes of the various OU components that most influenced my thinking.
Joining me were 40 NCSYers, who had a chance to hear from many important speakers. They included Howard Tzvi Friedman, past President of AIPAC, past Chair of the OU’s Institute for Public Affairs, past Chair of the NCSY Youth Commission, and now Honorary Vice President of the OU. The group also heard from Jarrod Bernstein, President Obama’s Outreach Director to the Jewish Community.
More than 70 OU synagogues sent delegations – from as far away as California. The Boca Raton Synagogue in Florida sent 147 delegates; Beth Jacob/Beverly Hills sent 126; and Baron Hirsch in Memphis brought 89 – that is just a sample of the enthusiasm of the OU synagogue community for the AIPAC proceedings and message.
L-R: Rabbi Burg, Michael Kassen, President of AIPAC, Dr. Katz
We had more than 400 attendees at an OU reception for the Orthodox community, who heard from Senior Rabbi Efrem Goldberg of the Boca Raton Synagogue. Earlier that evening, Efrem gave the invocation at AIPAC’s gala event. In addition, AIPAC hosted a luncheon for rabbis and other clergy. It was profoundly meaningful to sit in a room in the midst of such passion. The speaker was Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. At many points in her speech she quoted the posuk, “Hinayh nah-tov umah na-im, shevet achim gam yachad – How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony. “ At the conclusion of her speech the crowd rose to its feet, clapped their hands and burst into song with her. I don’t know if she was crying, but many people in the room had tears in their eyes.
I want to emphasize the word “yachad,” which of course, is the name of one of the OU’s most respected programs – Yachad emphasizes full Inclusion of those with disabilities into the Jewish community. At the AIPAC conference, there was full inclusion as well – inclusion of 13,000 in a group in which we were all one. There are differences that divide us in the Jewish community – even within the Orthodox community. But in Washington at AIPAC conferences there were no differences at all, no daylight, in the profound belief that Iran must be stopped – whether by Israel, the United States, or by both together.
By the OU’s presence at the conference, we made it clear how close our ties are with AIPAC, and how we depend on this marvelous organization to support the cause of Israel at the various levels of the United States government. Likewise, AIPAC depends upon the Orthodox Union and so many other Jewish organizations to rally the troops, so to speak, so that we can speak with one voice.
L-R: Avi Berman (OU Israel), Jarrod Bernstein, Director of Jewish Outreach for the White House, Dan Hazony, Rabbi Steve Burg, Clive Lipshitz, OU activist from Teaneck
That voice included our NCSYers. They had the opportunity to meet with their elected officials and to emphasize to them that there must be no wavering in the cause of Israel. Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone, the Director of New York NCSY, supplied the following message for us upon his return, exhausted, at 4:00 a.m. from the conference. This, in part, is what he wrote:
“Our teens, all of whom have attended or will be attending our “The Jerusalem Journey” or “Jerusalem Ambassador” programs, were smart, articulate, polite, charismatic and passionate. However those are not the middot I would like to speak about. The midda I would like to address is that of being CONNECTED. They came, they saw, the belonged. In a world (especially for teens) it is so easy to multi-task, check your phone while talking to someone, to be there, but not really there. For the past three days our teens have been connected to one another, to the Jewish people, to Israel and the United States, and perhaps most importantly, to themselves.
“In speaking to their congressmen and women, they articulated clearly and coherently the danger of a nuclear Iran and how it affects and threatens the entire world and that because of the unique time and place in history that they have been fortunate to be placed in, not at all unlike Esther, they were able to explain and then firmly demand that as Jewish Americans they cannot and will not sit on the sidelines as they have been blessed with a vote, a voice and influence.
“Indeed this is the very meaning of our upcoming holiday of Purim, connecting those who are disconnected, doing everything that we can do to improve the world and our lot in it, but also with a tremendous belief and devotion to Hashem. There is a world of Esthers out there and we are experiencing our inner Hadassah.”
When Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke, he held up a letter sent by the World Jewish Congress to the United States Department of War during the Holocaust, asking the military to bomb Auschwitz and the tracks leading there, a plea which was turned down – because it might rile up the Nazis. Today, the Jewish people have a state which can defend itself.
The Orthodox Union and NCSY wish to express their deepest gratitude to Prime Minister Netanyahu and AIPAC for both protecting and inspiring the Jewish future. I am so proud that the OU and AIPAC work hand in hand on this two-part mission. I am so proud that our young people and our shul leadership joined together with 13,000 others at the conference. And we all know the message of Purim.
Following the conference, I had the opportunity to deliver the invocation before the Maryland State Senate in Annapolis. I said, “As a member of the Jewish people, who have endured hardship and persecution throughout our history, I join this Senate in a prayer of profound gratitude and deep appreciation for the protections, privileges, and blessing that we, the people of the United States of America and the State of Maryland, enjoy.
“This week the Jewish Nation will celebrate the Holiday of Purim. It commemorates the plot and plan of a wicked man named Haman who manipulated the government of Persia to agree to wipe out and destroy the Jewish people. We were saved almost 2,000 years ago by a miracle from God. Today you, the members of the Senate, are our miracle. You safeguard our physical and spiritual wellbeing.
“Master of the Universe – Protect our courageous armed forces, watch over our elected leaders, grant peace and prosperity to this State of Maryland, the United States of America, and the entire world, and let us respond, Amen.”
Upon completion of my remarks, the President of the State Senate, Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., leaned over and told me that his mother’s name was Esther. I was truly moved by that remark.
When referring to peace and prosperity in “the entire world,” Israel is first on our minds – both at AIPAC and the OU. The ties that bind us are unbreakable. Israel and its people will always be the beneficiaries.