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February 28, 2020 in Guest Post, Rabbi Greg Harris
Rabbi Adam Kligfeld
This is the fourth week of the month. For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders from throughout the Jewish world and beyond. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter. I share this Facebook post (2.25.20) from Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles. We look forward to joining him at AIPAC’s Policy Conference next week. Rabbi Kligfeld wrote:
There are (at least) 3 AIPACs. Or realms of AIPAC.There is the one that, in many senses, is the entire raison d’etre of the organization, a goal to which AIPAC is more devotedly and successfully committed than just about any organization I know is to any of its goals. And that is to do anything and everything in its power to strengthen the relationship between the State of Israel and the United States, no matter the era, no matter who leads which country, no matter what crises interrupt the geopolitical order. I support this goal, this realm, completely and without reservation. I believe those who are Zionists and believe that Israel ought to exist as a nation-state for the Jewish people ought to as well.
Another AIPAC realm is the one that is committed to the largest tent, of both people and ideas, that may exist in the Jewish world and in the world of Israel advocacy and education. This is the AIPAC that can successfully claim to be the most kaleidescopic and diverse of Jewish melting pots, a gathering at which it is normative (though it is utterly rare if not illusory in nearly any other setting) for rabbis from Young Israel to Reform (which I am not setting up as a merism, as if they represent particular poles of Jewish expression, but you get the point) to gather together, as rabbis, giving one another at least the passive acquiescence of shared Jewish and rabbinic leadership, as they temporarily set aside divisions that in other settings may utterly impede basic acceptance, let alone partnership, all in the name of learning about and advocating for the State of Israel. This is the AIPAC which, in its breakout sessions at the Policy Conference, and on the trips to Israel it organizes for rabbis, laypeople, politicians, etc…presents a picture of Israel more healthily complicated, more unapologetically imperfect, more complete and complex than does (in my humble opinion) any of the other (worthy, but also self-identified as focused on one particular angle/issue) organizations that expose people to the current reality of Israeli civilization.
I was proud and honored to participate in an Encounter trip and AIPAC trip within 12 months. I am incredibly grateful to both organizations for the experience they curated, and the way they did not shy away from the many and vexing truths that
obtain when it comes to sizing up Israel in the 21st century. And I said then, and say again now, that the AIPAC experience presented/forced a wider and more challenging lens through which to understand “the situation” than did Encounter. This is partly by design, as both organizations, I would think, would say. But it also utterly belies the vicious lies imprecated against AIPAC, suggesting they are apologists, who encourage a simplistic read of the Middle East. It simply is not true, and it is intellectually dishonest to suggest it. It is a dishonesty that evinces either passive ignorance or willful propaganda or a noxious combination of the two..
And, yes, a third AIPAC realm is the rally-like, sometimes-banal, sometimes (unnecessarily and unfortunately) jingoistic, mostly proudly Zionist set of presentations that one experiences at the major plenary sessions at the Policy Conference. It is not easy to curate what happens on that stage. Bi-partisanship means bi-partisanship, and AIPAC is committed to that in an exemplary fashion. They do not edit or script the speeches, certainly not those given by elected officials. As anyone who has ever been responsible for a public plenary knows, once the person is at the mic, nothing can really control what is uttered. There is no “hook” at these plenary sessions. A very little bit of what is shared is unnecessary and unwelcome partisanship. But most of it gives the 18,000 plus present myriad opportunities to cheer, yes cheer, the ongoing project of Jewish statehood, more convinced than before that more American politicians than not, from both sides of the aisle, are with us, with Israel, in this project. I wince at some of the words shared by some of the people at the stage. I soar with most of it, my heart rising in pride in what Israel continues to be, struggle with, produce and create.
I am proud to be traveling to Washington DC this week to attend both the Policy Conference beginning Sunday and the Shabbaton preceding it. (If you are at the Shabbaton, I invite you to join me and Rabbi Rebecca Schatz as we lead the [non-musical-instrument] egalitarian services both Friday night and Shabbat morning). I’ll be proud and excited to share it with over 50 members of Temple Beth Am making the trip.
And I won’t miss whoever chooses to skip it. It is they who are missing out. And I thank all those who have publicized that they will not be attending AIPAC. I thank them for their candor (however riddled it may be with unintended inaccuracies and intentional slander) which exposes their true feelings. Their loud and ugly dismissals have invoked an even louder and beautiful chorus in response. Their boycott tells the population exactly where they stand on Israel. And that helps clarify for people whom to support and vote for, and whom not to. So I thank them.
And I will not be thinking of them next week. I will be thinking of the state and the idea of Israel, which has been central and in some ways more foundational to my Jewish identity even longer, and perhaps deeper, than have been my particular religious convictions.
I go to AIPAC to learn. To be stretched. To reconnect. And, yes, to cheer.