NEW YORK – I’ve run conferences and covered several as a reporter, but to date, I’ve never attended one of my own accord – or out of my own pocketbook – and was wondering who does and why.

On Sunday, I covered The Jerusalem Post’s first (and successful, judging by its attendance figures and the news that came out of it) conference in New York.

The registration area felt part-AIPAC, part Nefesh B’Nefesh: long lines, gift bags filled with stuff you don’t need but carry around with you anyway (Tourism Ministry brochures highlighting Israel’s holy sites, El Al toy airplanes, IDB Bank pens), booths inviting you to sample the wares (and branded mini-chocolate bars) of the American Zionist Movement, real estate companies, eight-minute highlight reels featuring Theodor Herzl’s accomplishments, and Colel Chabad pushkes planted throughout to raise money for the widows and orphans of Jerusalem.

In the large conference hall itself, there was a series of speeches with varying mixtures of hard-won perspective, bravado and news nuggets. In between, I took the opportunity to speak with attendees whenever and wherever I could find them – sitting next to me, in the ladies’ room, and at the lunch buffet (an East- West Jewish fusion of sliders and kebabs, salads and stuffed grape leaves).

One woman I met runs a Jewish nonprofit in London and came to hear Prof. Alan Dershowitz. She thought his brand of pro-Israel eloquence, political astuteness and high ethical standards was something she wanted to import to the UK and put into action there.

Another attendee I spoke to was from the US. She and her husband are “good friends with [former prime minister] Ehud Olmert.”

She leans to the left politically and had been hoping there would be more “Olmert types” there.

I also met an evangelical Christian man from the South who called himself a “Jewtile” (a Jewish gentile); he strongly believes in Israel and wants to live there, though he’s never been. He came to the conference to “support the Jews” and to urge our homecoming to the Holy Land... so that his rapture would soon follow.

Generally speaking, the majority of the crowd consisted of inquisitive middle-aged or older Jewish folk, and several families with teenage children, who had come to hear Israeli statesmen and Jewish leaders speak about issues they cared about, voice opinions with which they agreed, or kvetch about such questions as, “Why do the media constantly portray Israel in a negative light?” Many came to gain an insider’s glimpse into the facts on the ground from people who actually live, breathe and work in Israel.

At the end of the day, I understood that despite the disputes aired throughout the conference, there is also something comforting – and very human – about wanting to flock together like birds of a feather, especially when you all feel strongly about the same issues – such as the future of Israel and the Jewish people.

And the most articulate among them were there on stage, just a short distance away, arguing for their positions more passionately and persuasively than most of us in the audience could.

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