Last Monday I attended a Leadership Gathering at the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Policy Conference along with Senators and Representatives from across the United States, community leaders, activists, major donors, and other special guests. As a Leffell Fellow, this is one of the many opportunities I have been provided to learn about the importance of the US-Israel Relationship.
Knowing that my classmate, who serves at Temple Beth Sholom in Marquette, MI, and I would be lobbying in Michigan District One on behalf of our student pulpit communities, I took the opportunity to shake hands and chat with Representative Jack Bergman (R-MI 1). I introduced myself and shared my connection to his district as the student rabbi at Temple B’nai Israel (TBI) in Petoskey, MI. I told him about all of the hard work that each member of TBI does to keep this community vibrant and alive.
About fifteen hours later I was sitting in Rep. Bergman’s office preparing to speak with him about the US-Israel Relationship. While I expected it to be a small group of citizen lobbyists, we ended up filling his office with about 15 people, eleven of whom came from one family. Three generations of the Edward C. Levy family sat with us before the meeting discussing why they have invested both their time and financial resources with AIPAC. (The Edward C. Levy Company has been hauling and repurposing waste from steel mills in the midwest and around the world since 1918.) While they could have easily led the meeting on their own, Edward Levy Jr. (majority owner of the company) insisted I begin with a story from my recent AIEF (American Israel Education Foundation) Israel trip.
When Rep. Bergman came in the room, I reintroduced myself and before I could remind him where the synagogue was he replied “oh yes, Petoskey.” Following my story about Kfar Aza (the Kibbutz on the Gaza border who suffers near constant trauma from rocket and fire balloon attacks) Bergman shared that it invoked his memory of visiting the community in Sderot, not far from Kfar Aza on the Gaza border.
Throughout the meeting, we discussed as a group how the relationship between the United States and Israel is important for Israel, but also how it is integral for us here in the United States. The cooperation between the two nations provides opportunities to collaborate on research and development in fields from medicine, to tech, to weaponry, to justice organizations, and so much more.
While in many cases Rep. Bergman and I might disagree on policy, our mutual understanding of the importance of the US-Israel relationship allowed us to reach across partisan lines to work together towards a greater good.
In Megillat Esther,
Haman said to King Ahasuerus, ‘There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; and it is not in Your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them.”
Haman lied about the Jews, because they did follow the laws of the land. As we see throughout history, the Jews were persecuted in Shushan for no apparent reason. While in many of our persecution stories, the Jewish people wait generations for a hero, a miracle, or a shift in culture to occur - in Shushan we see a story in which the Jews gain freedom, providing an optimistic narrative for Jewish communities living under foreign rule.
This Diaspora narrative is an ancient success story. It reminds us that speaking up and including our voices in public conversation is the best way to maintain our rights and our freedoms.
This Purim, and this season of political change, I encourage each of us to focus on important values: speak out and listen carefully. Share your opinions respectfully, but without holding back. When you find yourself frustrated by the conversation in the office, at your dinner table, or on the TV screen do not walk away, do not turn it off. BREATHE. LISTEN. And try, just for a moment, to understand the world through another perspective. Disagreeing is healthy, but we can only disagree if we take the time to get to know each other’s opinions. The greatest changes can occur when we come together, listen to each other, and seek common ground.