As I took my seat in the Washington, D.C., basketball arena that hosted the AIPAC policy conference, I found myself the bridge between two generations. To my left sat my tough-willed mother who has brushed off labels her entire life — displaced person, refugee, survivor, illegal immigrant — and to my right was my inquisitive and fun-loving California born-and-bred 17-year old son.
As the opening video played before the 18,700 conference attendees, I caught my mom wiping a tear from her eye. She, who perhaps better than I can ever imagine, understands the importance of Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s work to strengthen the ties between America and Israel, was captivated by what she saw in the room.
The conference drew those from her generation as well as 4,000 students. She saw African Americans and Hispanics sitting beside religiously motivated Christians who were next to Jews from every denomination. She saw people whose politics she admires walking the halls with people whose politics she strongly disputes. She witnessed civil discourse across party, gender and ethnic lines. On this one narrow issue of Israel, 18,700 people came together to discuss how and why the United States’ relationship with Israel is so precious.
Meanwhile, my son has lived a life nearly the opposite of what my mother had experienced at his age. For him, Israel has existed every day of his life; he frequently hears Hebrew, and he has not had to confront anti-Semitism personally. My son has visited Israel and heard about its importance from my parents, from me and from my husband, Ben, but at AIPAC he was able to see and experience Israel in a new way.
He had conversations with a diverse range of Israel-lovers. He talked to students who attend Bay Area schools like U.C. Berkeley and Stanford, historically black colleges like Morehouse and Spelman, and religiously affiliated universities like Brigham Young and Oral Roberts. He heard the story of Israelis who are helping to save Syrian refugees. And he learned about a new Israel Defense Forces unit that ensures autistic youth can proudly wear the prestigious uniform and help keep Israel secure.
I also watched my son absorb something he has not seen much of in his lifetime: bipartisanship. He heard from leaders across the political spectrum including Vice President Joe Biden, Republican Speaker Paul Ryan, Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. He saw House Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer talk about why an otherwise partisan Congress comes together to support Israel. And he heard from people who identify as progressives and conservatives, hawks and doves.
Of course, much of the attention before, during and after the conference centered on AIPAC’s invitation of the presidential candidates.
Each candidate who spoke crafted his or her pro-Israel policy positions and articulated, on the record, a vision for the U.S.-Israel relationship in a public forum to our bipartisan audience. At AIPAC, and on the single issue of the U.S.-Israel relationship, we stood together to reinforce the positive Israel-related positions that the candidates articulated, no matter which political party the candidate represents.
On Tuesday morning, March 22, we ascended Capitol Hill to meet with legislators about bipartisan legislation that will strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. That day, we lobbied every member of the House and Senate to increase security aid to Israel, help advance the peace process and promote a two-state solution through direct negotiations, and remain vigilant about Iran’s illegal ballistic missile tests and human rights violations. In just days after the conference, the legislation we advocated had already garnered significant support from Democrats and Republicans alike.
Over the three days in Washington, my son, mother and all 18,700 delegates in attendance witnessed how AIPAC is trying to accomplish the almost impossible: expanding our tent broadly to welcome every American who wants to keep America and Israel safe and secure. Yes, it is hard. It is messy. It can be agitating. It is something nearly impossible to achieve. It is an aspiration all of us should encourage. And most important, AIPAC is not shying away from this challenge.
My family and I left this year’s conference ready to embrace our work, and inspired by what we can achieve when we put partisanship aside and focus on keeping America and Israel safe and secure. What the AIPAC community has accomplished in two generations to protect what my family holds dear was a personal blessing for my mother and a gift to my son. And for all the mothers, sons, fathers and daughters in the United States and Israel, we must continue our work together.
Adean Golub is a Jewish activist, tech entrepreneur and current board chair of AIPAC Northern California.