Today is September 24, 2018 -
By Rabbi Steven Abraham
On March 4, I headed to Washington, D.C., along with eight high school students and our fabulous Director of Congregational
Learning, Eadie Tsabari.
I will admit that I was nervous about taking this trip. I have found over the past few years that my belief and observance of Judaism does not allow me to sit on the sidelines of any debate, whether it be religious or political. What I had to learn and came to understand – and hope others will too – is that while Judaism leads me to one conclusion, it can lead others to something very different: not wrong, not right, but different. This difference of opinion is OK and can be a meaningful starting place for conversation.Taking eight of our teens into the belly of the beast, the center of our political discourse and turmoil, made me nervous. How do we bring a group of students to a gathering that while bipartisan, has politics embedded inside it, and walk out being able to listen to everyone’s opinion?
On the flight to AIPAC I wrote the following:
“On the way to AIPAC with eight of our teens. Could not be more excited to travel and get to know them better. At the same time, I hope they come to understand the complicated relationship we have with the State of Israel. The relationship Jews have with Israel is often compared to that of a husband and wife; we may not always agree, but certain conversations take place and stay in the bedroom. AIPAC is the opportunity to have hard conversations, to hear from our elected officials, whether we voted for them or not, about how they see the US – Israel relationship. I hope our teens walk away with more questions than answers but understand that while Israel is far from perfect, it is our eternal home and our job to perfect.”
It was an incredible trip. First and foremost, Eadie and I got to spend quality time with our high school students, which can never be undervalued. Perhaps most importantly, our teens got to hear from their elected leaders; from sitting with Congressman Bacon, to hearing from Senators Schumer, Menendez, McConnell, Klobuchar, Coons and many more. They were able to hear from the Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, as well as the Prime Minister of The State of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. Perhaps at no other time in history have high school students been at the center of social change, and the conversation on Israel is no different; our students walked away with an array of thoughts and opinions, yet all showed respect.
At the conclusion of the three-day convention I wrote the following:
“Amazing time in DC with our teens. Right, Center or Left, our students got to hear (and meet) their elected officials as well as those in the Israeli government. I hope that they walk away knowing that they are the linchpin for both our democracy and our relationship to Israel. The grand experiment that is our democracy was on display, and they got to be in the room where it happens.”
Our students made us proud, both as representatives of Beth El and as citizens of the State of Nebraska. They come back not indoctrinated by AIPAC but more aware of the complexities that exist in a world where support of Israel is not always apparent, even within the Jewish community. I look forward to attending Policy Conference next year and would encourage you to join us. Whether you’re on the left or the right, I promise there is much to learn on all sides.