Last week I returned from three whirlwind days in Washington, D.C., at AIPAC’s 2018 Policy Conference.  For those who have not been to PC (shorthand lingo for “Policy Conference”!) previously, it may be hard to picture the buzz and excitement that comes with attending a conference of 18,000 pro-Israel activists from across America.  The combination of (1) powerful keynote speeches by American and Israeli leaders, (2) presentations on pioneering Israeli innovations, and (3) informative and engaging smaller group breakout sessions on wide-ranging topics related to Israel and the Middle East, all built up to the opportunity to meet with congressional leaders on Capitol Hill on the last day of the conference. This  resulted in an incredibly energizing experience for those who attended.  Close to 4,000 student Israel activists from over 600 college campuses were among this year’s conference participants, including UT freshman Jed Golman from our shul, who also raised funds to make it possible for his fellow UT students to attend and helped recruit a delegation of 40 UT students.  It’s inspiring to see our young student leaders feeling passion for, and stepping up to advocate for, Israel.

Similarly, I think it’s safe to say that our nearly 70-member Shearith Israel delegation was incredibly proud of, and inspired by, the leadership shown by our own Lillian Pinkus, who at this conference completed her two-year tenure as national President of AIPAC and began her term as Board Chair.  It was a great moment to see Lillian warmly introduce Prime Minister Netanyahu on the last morning of the conference for his remarks to the convention body.  Please save the date of Saturday, April 21, when we’ll be honoring Lillian and her husband Jon at Shabbat morning services as part of our weekend of festivities here celebrating Israel’s 70th birthday (Yom Ha’Atzma’ut, Israel’s Independence day, falls on April 19 this year).  Be sure to keep an eye open for more details on all the weekend’s activities, including a special Israeli music-themed Friday night service and Shabbat dinner, and scholar-in-residence Dr. Natan Sachs from the Brookings Institution.

Israel faces its considerable share of challenges from outside its borders, and within its own society, as it continues to evolve and develop its identity as a Jewish and democratic state, and still a relatively young one at that, at age 70.  But while those challenges continue to exist, Israel still continues to churn out innovations in all fields.  For example, Prime Minister Netanyahu cited the statistic that Israel is 1/10 of one percent of the world’s population, yet 20% of world investment in cyber security is in Israeli companies.  Israel also finds its way to the front lines of helping other nations and people in need, whether in the aftermath of natural disasters wherever they might take place around the world, or in third world countries.  For an example of the latter, check out the impressive work that Sivan Ya’ari and Innovation Africa (another organization that was introduced to us at AIPAC, and also during our Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas Mission to Israel a few weeks ago) are doing to bring Israeli solar, water, and agricultural technologies to rural African villages.  And check out Dream Doctors and their advances in the field of medical clowning, yet another contribution by Israel in the area of healing, by tending to the healthy side of the patient while the doctors and nurses tend to the patient’s medical issues.

We have much to be proud of when it comes to Israel.  Let’s make this 70th birthday year—and every year thereafter—an opportunity to celebrate how much Israel offers us as a Jewish people, and how much Israel contributes to the world as an Or La-Goyim, “a light unto the nations”.  Stay tuned for information coming later this spring on a Shearith Israel congregational mission to Israel in June 2019, and, in the meantime, please begin letting us know if you might be interested in finding out more about/participating in that trip.

L’Shana Ha’Ba-ah Bi-Yerushalayim—next year in Jerusalem!