What do a child, AIPAC & coronavirus have in common?

As I sit here in isolation, I wanted to share a bit of this because I returned a different kind of Israeli.

A PASSENGER at Ben-Gurion Airport heads home to quarantine. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
A PASSENGER at Ben-Gurion Airport heads home to quarantine.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
High speed Wi-Fi? Check. Endless streaming channels? Check. Too much coffee? Check. I am quarantined in my Jerusalem home by order of the Health Ministry. Am I sick? No, but I returned from the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, D.C., and as a result, I’ve had to cancel two weeks of meetings, am carb loading, working in my pajamas and missing fresh air desperately. Was it worth it?
It was life changing.
I am Israeli by choice. After 32 years, I have lived here longer than I lived in New York, the city of my birth, but it was only by returning to speak at AIPAC that I learned the true depth of American support for Israel among American Jews and many non-Jews of all denominations, political parties, colors and cultures.
The scale was overwhelming. There were 18,000 attendees including 4,000 students showing support for Israel and proudly fighting BDS on their campuses. Lobbyists and changemakers who would later have meetings up on “the hill” (Capitol Hill). Proud and passionate in their unwavering (though not uncritical) support for us. For Israel. For Israelis.
I was moved to tears at the opening session when Rabbi J.J. Schacter talked about how his father, US chaplain Rabbi Herschel Schacter, had saved a little eight-year-old boy during the liberation of Buchenwald and how that child was at AIPAC. And as the audience of 18,000 waited to see who this was, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, chairman of Yad Vashem and former chief rabbi of Israel, came up onto the stage and said: “I am that little boy.” Rabbi Lau thanked the American military men who liberated the camps, some of whom were in the audience. The veterans (well into their 90s) were asked to stand, whoever still physically could, and the massive crowd rose to their feet and roared in a standing ovation that lasted minutes. That was a formative moment for me. I knew now that this was the bond between America and Israel, and the Jewish People that would be spoken about again and again over the next three days. And that bond could never be broken.
That was the first of many times during the conference I was brought to tears in appreciation and awe. I remained unjaded by what were truly heartfelt speeches, spontaneous conversations with people from all over America who love Israel, the public sessions, exhibits at the AIPAC Village and presentations by people who are working to build a stronger, more inclusive Israel in the fields of science and technology, culture, education, civil rights, coexistence, the nurturing of natural resources and, of course, the American-Israel relationship.
I was treated like royalty by the delegates I met, just by virtue of the fact that I am Israeli. People were impressed by the fact that I picked up and moved to Israel 32 years ago. They were curious about the work I do and genuinely interested.
I had been invited by AIPAC to speak on a panel about old and new ways of storytelling. I spoke about film and television as today’s critical medium to tell the stories of Israel – and to get them out there. This is what we have been doing for more than 20 years at the Film & Media Collaborative between Gesher Multicultural Film Fund, Maimonides Fund and AVI CHAI. The premiere of season 3 of Fauda, produced by YES studios, was screened on Saturday night to a packed audience across seven cinema sized screens. The Women of Shtisel event left audiences begging for the new season. The masses of people loved everything Israeli – all the things we take for granted here. And it didn’t matter whether they were Democrat or Republican, black or white, LGBTQ or straight, religious or secular. There was no cynicism. It was unconditional love and pride in who we are and what we produce.
People in Israel know nothing about all of this. All I could think of is that we must, in some way, get our fellow Israelis to feel all of this support and understand how proud and involved American Jews are in our reality, and how much they care. We are so disconnected over here and that should change.
I am not naïve. The love is not unconditional and support comes in many forms – as it should. There was much painful and informed criticism of Israel and there is division among Americans and American Jews just as there is among ourselves here in Israel. But, I was there and I met these supporters of Israel from conservatives to progressives. They are in the conversation. They have made a choice to play an active role in the continuously emerging story of the People of Israel. Let’s join that conversation.
What do we know about our American Jewish brothers and sisters? How involved are we in their lives? Do we care how they live? Do we feel their pain as antisemitism grows in their midst? Are we doing something to embrace them as family? True, we are providing a safe haven for all Jews. But is that enough?
As I sit here in isolation, I wanted to share a bit of this because I returned a different kind of Israeli. I hope to learn more about the Jewish communities across America, take an interest in their lives, listen to their stories and bring them to the Israeli public. Because, like Herschel Schacter – who saved a small eight-year-old boy – there are many more stories to be told.
The writer is the director of The Film and Media Collaborative – an initiative of the Gesher Multicultural Film Fund, Maimonides Fund and AVI CHAI Foundation.