Most heads were bare, but some were covered. The red baseball hats donned by some participants indicated their support for US President Donald Trump.
The black velvet kippot and the white and colorful crocheted ones, numbering a few dozen, signified allegiance to a phenomenon even more historic – the Jewish people. But neither captured the extent of devotion to the Jewish state at this gathering.
The American Conservative Union (ACU) held its annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) the last full week in February. It was a threeday festival of speakers and swag, education and revelry for those of a conservative political persuasion.
Perhaps you differ with the Right on taxes, school choice or gun control, but one issue should unite Jews of any political persuasion with conservatives: Israel.
And CPAC is like a three-day carnival for the pro-Israel.
US Vice President Mike Pence addressed the conference on the first morning. In his rousing, enthusiastically received speech, easily the line which garnered the loudest applause and brought people to their feet the quickest was on Israel.
“And for decades,” said Pence, “after one president after another promised to move the US embassy to the capital of our most cherished ally, President Trump made history on December 6th when the United States of America recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.”
The room exploded in applause and cheers. A young (not-obviously Jewish) college student in a blue blazer unfurled an Israeli flag and began to wave it. The room was absolutely electric.
The following morning, attendees woke at 5 a.m. to get seats for the president’s speech. In remarks met by many standing ovations, President Trump’s pronouncements on Israel stood out.
“We officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” said Trump, and the crowd immediately rose in applause.
Explaining the decision, Trump continued, “I was hit by more countries and more pressure and more people calling, begging me ‘don’t do it....’ I said, ‘we have to do it. It’s the right thing to do.’” To watch as thousands of Americans – most of whom have no family in the Jewish state and have never even visited – leap to their feet and cheer over Israel and Jerusalem is truly moving. As a Jew and as an Israeli, it is hard to express in words the feeling one has being an observer in the room when Israel is a rallying cry for thousands of non-Jews.
The support for Israel was not reserved just for the main stage or the cameras.
Every person I met expressed their support, love, or admiration for Israel.
From headline speakers like Senator Ted Cruz and Congressman Mark Meadows to grassroots activists and citizens, when I spoke with them individually and faceto- face, each and every response was genuinely positive, caring and supportive of Israel. No cameras were rolling, no crowds stood around me, no one was there to record the moment for posterity.
The interest and love for Israel was sincerely expressed with no expectation in return.
And Israel was more than just a mention of promises kept and brotherly alliances.
It was also a subject of education and inquiry. A number of speeches and panel discussions touched on the topic, and two sessions were devoted to the subject.
The first was an Overview of the Palestinian- Israeli Conflict, on which I was privileged to be a panelist. The panel was designed to be a 101-style course on the history and conflict from an Israeli perspective, and to give attendees the knowledge and tools to better understand the struggle. The second panel was entitled Alternatives to the Two-State Solution, an important discussion in light of a peace process frozen in time, much like the tenure of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, now 13 years into his four-year term.
Both sessions had standing-room-only crowds of over 150 people. Intelligent, challenging questions were asked, and attendees remained long after the sessions ended to ask follow-up questions and give their own perspectives.
For a Jew and Israel supporter, the icing on the cake was perhaps Shabbat at CPAC, organized by Young Jewish Conservatives. Notably co-hosted by the ACU itself and now in its seventh year, over 150 Jews participated in traditional Shabbat meals and services which operate in parallel to the festivities at CPAC.
Over the course of Shabbat, attendees were engaged by speakers such as Congressman Meadows and long-time talk radio personalities Mark Levin and John Batchelor. Much of the discussion focused on Israel and the unique role that Jews play in preserving and advancing the shared Judeo-Christian ethic which underpins much of Western civilization.
For a conservative, listening to the president and vice president was an energizing experience, and learning from the dozens of other speakers was enriching.
For an Israeli who had traveled nearly 10,000 km. to Washington, DC, I was inspired by what a central place Israel held at a conference of American conservatives gathering to reflect on their policy accomplishments and challenges.
That Americans stand with Israel is a cause for sincere gratitude among Jews.
That Israel stands as one of the top policy priorities of American conservatives is a source of inspiration and wonder of biblical proportions.
The author is a senior adviser at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies.