The annual AIPAC Policy Conference was held this year from March 1-3, and the Stamford Jewish community was out in full force, proudly standing with the more than 18,000 delegates in support of Israel and the US-Israel relationship.
Rabbi Daniel Cohen of Congregation Agudath Sholom led a delegation more than 85 strong. “AIPAC is very much a part of who we are and our spirit. We work closely with AIPAC during the year; it is more than just the conference… Five years ago, the shul began an Israel advocacy committee, which works to find ways to cultivate Israel advocacy in a broader sense,” he said.
Vered Links, a first-timer at the policy conference, commented, “My husband and I went to AIPAC this year as part of the Agudath Sholom delegation. This was his fourth year attending and my first. I was determined to go, to show my support for an organization I believe is the only truly bipartisan institution left in American politics… AIPAC gave us all a chance to step outside our carefully crafted political ‘bubbles,’ hear the other side out and realize that there is so much more that unites us than divides us… The most heartening thing to see at AIPAC, however, was not the dozens of senators, presidential candidates, congressman and world leaders, but the over 4,000 students who came from all over the USA to carry the torch for the future of the America-Israel relationship.”
To involve the community’s high school students, the synagogue launched the Rosalie Aberman Agudath Sholom AIPAC Teen Fellowship, spearheaded by Stephanie and Bob Sherman in memory of Stephanie’s mother, z”l. Led by the Shermans and Sandy and Michael Kamen, with support from Susan and Len Mark and Erwin and Veronica Reich, the fellowship sends 15 teens annually as part of the Stamford cohort.
“My mother was always a fervent advocate of the state of Israel,” said Stephanie. “We were looking for a meaningful way to honor her and thankfully Rabbi Cohen presented the opportunity to us. We are thrilled to honor my mother, Rosalie Aberman, by supporting the youth in our community and their participation in AIPAC.”
Along with the synagogue cohort, David Citrin, coordinator, Jewish Engagement & Innovation, Stamford JCC, brought a group of teens to the policy conference as part of the JCC’s “Speak Up for Israel” program. “Speak Up for Israel” is a group of local high school students that meets monthly throughout the year to learn about Israel. They are also taught leadership and thinking skills that will benefit them at the policy conference and beyond.
“Our intention is to prepare these high school students, all 16 to 18 years old, to think critically about the regional conflict and the information they receive at AIPAC, and also to be competent thinkers, whatever the field they go into. I can’t think of a better platform to teach these skills than this one,” noted Citrin.
This year, the students had a unique experience at the policy conference. They accidentally met “the one Palestinian man there, who says he believes that the relationship [between Israel and the Palestinians] must be preserved. He said that he totally agrees with the overall message of the AIPAC conference, and he wants to see that same message of solidarity with the future Palestinian state as a long-term solution,” Citrin recalled.
Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy Upper School also sent a delegation to the conference. For the fifth consecutive year, the school’s Israel Advocacy Club participated, this year sending 28 students. At the conclusion of the conference, they had the opportunity to lobby their congressmen and women on Capitol Hill, along with the rest of the Connecticut cohort.
“What touched me most when I first went [to the policy conference] about 10 years ago were the relationships. AIPAC is more than just coming out in times of crisis. If we only come when we need something, that’s not okay. The policy conference is about saying thank you for being there at all the other times. It’s okay if we disagree. We still agree on the main issues and that’s important,” Rabbi Cohen concluded.
By Jill Kirsch