I grew up in a liberal home in which politics, social issues and, most importantly, social responsibility were often discussed. I recall organizational meetings to support various Democratic candidates taking place in my den and vividly remember hours spent putting political placards on doors throughout my town.
My parents’ lessons on social values of inclusion, equality, and fairness have stuck with me. They shaped the adult I have become, guide my vote each November, and influenced the type of community I wanted to serve. It was the open, liberal, progressive approach long taken by my congregation that initially drew me to it. Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel is a congregation that looks for every opportunity to say “yes” and be inclusive. It is why we gutted our main worship space a few years ago and made sure it was accessible through ramps and movable chairs. It is why, as long as I am the only officiant, I will perform an interfaith marriage (with the hope that, by doing so, I will be helping to create a new Jewish home.) It is why, in February of 2012, I was in Trenton testifying before the State Assembly on behalf of marriage equality, and joined in celebration with friends whose wedding I performed when their marriage was finally recognized by the state this past fall.
I also value the fact that my community is not one dimensional. I am truly blessed to serve a congregation that allows me to be outspoken about my beliefs, even as I recognize and celebrate the fact that members of my community hold vastly different perspectives than I. This diversity of opinion even finds its way into our congregation’s pro-Israel activism. I am, for instance, heading our congregation’s delegation to this year’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference. But just last month more than 30 members of my community gathered to meet with a leader of J Street.
I choose to actively support AIPAC. Others in my congregation choose to support J Street. I not only accept that fact but I value it.
In short, I am the left wing of the Left movement within Judaism. I am a social progressive among social progressives. And I am also a proud member of AIPAC. And when “50 liberal Jewish activists” recently published a letter alleging that “AIPAC speaks for Israel’s hard-line government and its right-wing supporters, and for them alone; it does not speak for us,” I took offense. Those signing that letter display a poor understanding of AIPAC’s core mission and present, as monolithic, an organization that is as complex and diverse as the American-Jewish community itself.
As one of AIPAC’s “left-wing supporters” I want to make it clear that the letter’s signatories do not speak for liberals like me.
They are, however, correct when they say that AIPAC doesn’t speak for them. Fact is, AIPAC doesn’t speak for anyone. Its mission, stated clearly and concisely on its website’s homepage, is “to strengthen, protect, and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of Israel and the United States.” AIPAC is neither liberal nor conservative. AIPAC is committed to working with and strengthening the bonds between the administrations in Israel and the United States — regardless of party.
AIPAC, and those of us who are active in it, are unapologetically pro-Israel. That does not mean I don’t have concerns for the well-being of the Palestinian people. I do. It does not mean I do not support the concept of a two-state solution. I do. It does not mean I am not pro-peace. I am. But it does mean that, first and foremost, I am concerned with my people, my community, and my “house.” More accurately, I am concerned with my peoples (Jews and Americans), my community (Jewish and American), and my houses (the United States and Israel). I believe that a strong U.S.-Israel relationship is good for both nations. And I support AIPAC’s mission to protect and strengthen that relationship.
Pirkei Avot teaches, “If I am not for myself who will be for me? If I am only for myself what am I?”
My Jewish values teach me to be concerned for others. At the same time, they teach me that I need to look out for myself (and by extension my community and my people). In fact, in this teaching it is self-concern that comes first. After all, if I do not look after my own home first, then there is no way I will be able to reach out to others.
Securing my own home begins with continuing to build Jewish life in America and helping to secure Israel’s future. It is why I will be in Washington for the AIPAC Policy Conference beginning this Sunday…as a proud liberal…and as an active and supportive member of AIPAC.