The ticker on the Marriot Marquis warned of street closings, high security, and pedestrian traffic due to a private event. The media reported about the speakers and analyzed the political broiges between the candidates. But this one time, I was not reading the news for second-hand information. Instead, I headed to DC to join the crowds of the American Israel Pubic Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) Policy Conference and experience the power of people joining together for a common cause.
I have never been quite political. I have my own opinions and care about the complex situations of our country, but listening to candidates whom I cannot relate to nor empathize with (nor particularly like), or listening to other people talking about these candidates who I do not like, has me turning the radio from NPR back to Z100. But the past week I spent in Washington D.C. had me hooked.
For several days I attended breakout sessions at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The sessions ranged from 50 person classes on religion and understanding Islamic Radicalism, to thousand plus attendees learning about the situation of oil and gas in Israel, to booths on 3D printing plastic limb appendages for amputees. Some were educational, some frightening and others exciting. But none compared to the general sessions where 18,000 conference participants joined together a few blocks away.
Over the weekend there was a hockey game and then a Rihanna concert, but by Sunday evening the Verizon Center was selling Kosher hotdogs and completely turned over to AIPAC. We waited on long lines, went through the metal detectors and poured into the bleachers, eager for the night to begin. And then we heard it- that rich baritone voice that you know so well. It’s the man, (I sort of imagine being the Wizard of Oz without the weirdness), who invites you to rise for the national anthem at the Mets game and at the Superbowl. But this time with a variation: “Please rise” he voiced, “as we join together for the Israeli national anthem- Hatikva.” And then 18,000 people- Jews and non Jews, white and black, young and old, American and Israeli -joined together to sing the unifying song of hope, the one every person there respected and appreciated.
The night continued with speakers (keynote: Biden) and presentations interspersed informing us of the incredible work that The Startup Nation is doing today, and remind us of the State’s miraculous history. For me, the most moving presentation was the story of a young girl, born without eyes, abandoned, and then taken in by Israelis. The video presentation about this girl left everyone sniffling, trying to contain the building up snot from breaking through. But what followed left everyone giving up, letting the tears go. I can’t really explain it, but watch here. The night was moving. It left us inspired and invigorated about the lands we all loved most.
And so we everyone was abuzz with excitement as they filed back into the Center the next morning at 8 AM, eager for the day that would include speeches from Clinton, Trump, Cruz, and Kasich to us. As a bipartisan organization, it is AIPAC’s policy to invite all presidential candidates to speak at the conference. The speeches were well delivered and well received as the candidates pledged to support Israel. I was happy to listen and glad to learn more about each candidate’s policies and personalities.
But more than learning, I felt proud to be sitting in those packed bleachers as a passionate Zionist and American. I felt proud to be part of something that was so much bigger than myself, to look around and feel as though I was participating in a historical event. Like assemblies and rallies that took place regarding free rights, or women’s rights, I was there supporting my cause. And I felt proud to be in a room with so many others who shared that same passion.
And I understood. I understood the depth of the draw of politics and the excitement that people feel discussing debates or specific viewpoints. Like spending time with your family or close friends, traveling across the ocean, running a marathon, or spearheading a charity event, joining in a political movement about something you care deeply about leaves you with that chased-after feeling of fulfillment. I understood the power of unification that helps deliver that feeling and I have a greater respect for those who are committed to pursuing that which they care about. I probably won’t start following the daily votes, or matches between candidates on all issues, but I appreciate those who do.
Because at the end of the day, the more we care, the more we feel, and the more we feel, the more we live. Politics, I realized, is a shared road, open for all who care to travel together. In DC, I was proud of my carpool of ardent Zionists, of the people who came together to show support and travel together on this complex road that connects two incredible countries and thousands of passionate people in shared goals.