By Amy Fels
Special to HAKOL
Ten years ago, I never would have predicted this. I never heard of AIPAC. Five years ago I never would have predicted this. I still had never heard of AIPAC. But, four years ago I heard about AIPAC from Beth Kushnick who was getting ready to go to Washington with several other couples to attend for the first time. That was around the same time that a “perfect storm” was brewing in the Fels family. Eric was completing his presidency at KI and Allyson had just begun school at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy. The storm intensified over the next year as our family became more interested and more involved in Judaism and Israel. After Beth returned from her second conference and aware of our growing feelings, she told us we should go the following year because we would love it!
That summer, Eric and I went to Israel and the storm exploded! We were firmly grounded on our paths to a deeper connection with our people and the land we received from G-d thousands of years ago. We both knew that our lives were forever changed as we found new purposes within ourselves desiring to make more of a difference to help sustain our religion and the future of Israel.
With Allyson just returning from three months in Israel where she, too, underwent life changing experiences, the three of us attended our first AIPAC conference last year. Brenna was not able to go as she was in Israel at the time with her 8th grade class. But, this year Brenna wanted to go also!
The experience of AIPAC is almost indescribable. It’s one of those things that you just have to do in order to fully understand the enormity of being surrounded by 18-19,000 other people that have the same passion, goals, hopes and strength to support Israel. And they are not all Jewish. But they simply believe in and support all that Israel is and creates.
At AIPAC, there are general sessions in the mornings and evenings where everyone comes together listening to bipartisan speakers from government positions in the United States as well as other countries. There are inspirational personal stories of people or organizations who have benefitted from Israeli inventions in technology, health equipment, human services, education, athletics and more. Other stories share experiences about people helping or surviving extreme circumstances that quite often bring the audience to tears. During the middle part of the day, there are breakout sessions that every person individually selects based on their own interests as to what they want to learn more about through presentations of speakers or panels of discussions. Certain sessions are geared for high school and college-age children as there were 4,000 students in attendance.
This year, the highlight for me was hearing Nikki Haley speak during an evening session at the Verizon Center in front of 18,000 people who were on their feet clapping and cheering at the top of their lungs for her incredible support for Israel at the U.N. She is sending the message to them that bullying Israel will no longer be accepted or tolerated. Standing there amongst all of these people who share the same feelings as I do sent chills up and down my body as I felt the strength and power of what it means to unite as one regardless of political affiliation. This is what I search and strive for in the Allentown community as well as our country.
I am grateful that Beth introduced AIPAC to Eric and me and that our daughters have such an interest in participating in this amazing organization to make a difference at such a young age. They are learning that we can’t take Israel for granted. There are many that want to destroy our land and wipe us off the face of the earth. There are many that try to hurt Israel through economic plots and encourage opposition. Attending AIPAC helps to educate students and adults on where our contributions go, how to help more, and the power of strength and unity.
The conference concluded on Capitol Hill as a group from Allentown lobbied with Charlie Dent; presenting and asking for his support on new bills and resolutions.
We go to AIPAC because we recognize that Israel is our land, too. It is our responsibility to protect it and support it. Those that came before us fought and sacrificed for it. It’s our past, our present and our future.