As we approach Shabbat, I write at the end of over two weeks in which the RA had to suspend most of our regular activities to work in support of Israel. Since the days I spent in Israel on the Conference of Presidents Mission with Steve Wernick, the situation has grown increasingly difficult.
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to report to a meeting of the Senate Democratic caucus on issues of interest to the Jewish community on my experience in Israel and that of our colleagues. I was able to convey directly from my firsthand experience and conversations with Israeli lawmakers and defense strategists and describe the sobriety and reluctance with which Israel entered and sustains the current ground operation. It demonstrated again for me the important role we can play through our firsthand testimony as religious leaders and advocates. Bob Cohen, AIPAC President (an active congregant of Jeff Segelman at Westchester Jewish Center and the third consecutive active Conservative Jew in the AIPAC presidency) opened the meeting with an outstanding summary of the current situation and gave appreciated thanks to the Obama Administration and Congress).
Working with our publicist, we were able to obtain many interviews with local media outlets around the country (such as the Chicago Tribune, New Jersey Star Ledger and New Haven Register) for our colleagues on the mission. The RA mission thereby became a powerful tool for countering misperceptions generated by several of the major media conglomerates. Americans watch the networks, but they also read their local hometown papers and in the hometowns of our mission participants, firsthand accounts from Beersheva, Ashkelon and Tel Aviv made a meaningful contribution to sustaining American support for Operation Protective Edge. We must remember our potential influence as rabbis to shape discourse on a local level if we only reach out to exercise it.
The people of Israel feel ever more acutely the impact of the current hostilities with the sorrow of killed and wounded IDF soldiers, civilian casualties of Hamas’ inhumane strategies of human shields living over a terrorist infrastructure, and the threat of terror through rockets and attack tunnels. As most of our mission arrives home this morning, some of our colleagues will be in Israel through Shabbat as a consequence of the FAA freeze on flights. We are grateful to every colleague, some 40 in all, who participated in this mission. Having made many calls from Israel to recruit rabbis for the mission, I know that many of us went at some significant personal and professional expense at the last minute. Keep up the good work!