Last Sunday Raina and I, along with more than two dozen TSTIers, were in Washington DC for AIPAC’s 2017 Policy Conference. It was three days of listening, learning and lobbying on behalf of the US-Israel relationship. Policy Conference ended with us going to Capitol Hill to attend some of the more than 500 lobbying appointments that took place with members of the House and Senate. Policy Conference is an unusual experience. In a hyper-partisan environment, AIPAC remains committed to bi-partisanship and continues to strive to hold the middle. It is increasingly difficult to do so but, particularly in this environment, is more important than ever.
While AIPAC is committed to bi-partisanship, AIPAC activists are clearly partisan, as are all activists. At any given event or program it is not uncommon to find yourself sitting next to someone who is worlds apart from you ideologically. As you might expect, this results in some rather unusual conversations.
There were a number of moments during PC this year that stand out . . . .
I moderated a panel discussion with two Members of Knesset whose political and social ideology represents two entirely different world views. The MKs clearly know, like and respect one another but that did not keep them from having a rather public spat during the panel.
We saw a new device that creates potable drinking water by capturing and purifying water vapor. It is one of the most amazing examples of Israeli ingenuity and has the potential to bring safe drinking water to millions who currently suffer as part of a growing water crisis.
. . . but the most powerful one was entirely unexpected:
We saw a brief video about Violins for Hope. Israeli violin maker Amnon Weinstein founded Violins of Hope when a man brought a battered violin to him to be repaired. It was a violin once played in a Nazi Death camp by Jews on the way to the gas chamber. He repaired it and, for the last 20 years, he’s been on a quest to collect and repair violins of the Holocaust. As one report on the project explains,
Amnon Weinstein’s Tel Aviv shop is filled with violins, violas and cellos in various states of repair, and he reckons he and his son Avshalom have restored about 60 instruments, so far, as part of a project he calls the Violins of Hope.
This is what we saw and heard: http://video.policyconference.org/watch/8mMjdVS4AMAwMR4Fe6r3ns
The video was moving but that was just the beginning. As it ended we heard the sound of a violin playing in the Verizon Center. Within a few moments we realized that the sound was coming from the main stage. Israeli violinist Hagai Shaham was playing one of the restored violins. After a few moments we realized he had begun to play Hatikvah- The Hope. As the Israeli national anthem filled the space I watched as, one by one, more than fifteen thousand of us rose to our feet. And then, softly at first, the crowd began to sing with him. Before long the voices of thousands were singing. It did not matter if we were Democrats or Republicans, Progressives or Conservatives. The entire crowd was on their feet singing… together.
It is increasingly difficult to find common ground in our nation these days. Too many of us find ourselves unable to speak, let alone listen, to one another. But in that moment all the divisions disappeared. In that moment we shared something profound. It was powerful. It was beautiful. It was inspiring.
If only we would seek more moments such as that.
Rabbi Daniel M. Cohen
A Special Invitation: Passover begins in just over a week. That means next Shabbat is the last Shabbat of Chametz until mid-April. Join us for a ” Chametz farewell” with Shabbat song and pasta at our first annual Penne Shabbat Dinner.