So remind me next year not to bother with the "Gala" at AIPAC. This was (apparently) the first year they didn't do it as a dinner, and the result was, well, terrible. I felt herded like cattle through security. One of my congregants saw a couple of older people nearly pass out and need to be taken away. It was absolute bedlam. All so I could buy a lousy pre-packaged sandwich for $8, hear Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi deliver pretty paltry speeches, and see Binyamin Netanyahu hit a couple of softballs. The funniest part was that every time they wanted a standing ovation they brought the lights up. Hey, at least the music was good (Idan Raichel Project, Rick Recht, Maccabeats), but as I was watching them on a screen, who could tell? Supposedly it'll be different/better next year, but I'm inclined (assuming I come back) to skip it.
I'm sure that paragraph will prove controversial (it's a little too 'first world problems' even for my taste, even as I feel like kvetching), but while it may be meaningful for many to hear speeches from our political leaders (and in this case at least, variations on the same speech over and over again) that's not where I live. It feels too much to me like self-aggrandizement. Perhaps it's the numbers, or the number of people who are politically so different than myself...Not that there's anything wrong with that, and normally I encourage diverse views and voices, but the near GLEE you hear from people who want to bomb Iran NOW, as if that's the only meaningful solution frankly scares me. And the sense that (and this was my biggest concern viz. AIPAC) disagreement regarding the military option directly correlates to lack of support of Israel is permeable.
That's not to say that there weren't moments of brightness: Bibi reaffirming his commitment to protecting the rights of judges and women in Israel was heartening (though it was a missed opportunity to speak to that point more thoroughly). And after the Gala, the chance to hear from Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a calmer, quieter setting (and Carl Levin and Rick Santorum so far this morning in a more low-key environment) was meaningful (and seeing her stoop to listen to a much, much older woman was really lovely). I think my problem is largely with the pomp--the cameras, the rock star/WWE music, the pretentiousness. And I'm sure I should have just expected that, but the moments that have been really good have been the ones where I got to listen to experts and leaders in quiet circles, where applause was not guaranteed (and standing O's not signaled), and where something closer to dialogue could take place. I guess you either think the energy is invigorating or neutralizing. For me it's the latter, but clearly many, many people find the former to be true.
Sadly, the part I'll miss the part of the program I was most excited about. In my foolishness, I scheduled my train for 1pm, thinking I'd have time to make it from the Russell Building to Union station in time. Sadly, that's not the case (I was thinking of the lobbying we did for L'taken, when 300 teens and a hundred or so rabbis and educators had to get through security, not 7000 rowdy adults, who we all know are harder to corral than teens). That, for me, is the meaningful part of AIPAC--building relationships. Probably no surprise that I say that being a rabbi, but it's true. I relish the opportunity to make relationships with fellow klei kodesh, with laypeople, and with our civic leadership. Thankfully I'll have the opportunity to do so when I get back and will be making appointments with my leadership (and inviting my laypeople to join me) to follow up from this past experience.