by Shlomo Anapolle (’13)

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Wow, what an amazing day! On Thursday, several members of MTA’s Hatzioni club were invited to join the YUPAC mission to Washington. Ethan Wasserman, YUPAC’s previous leader, has a close connection to MTA and was kind enough to continue to help our Israel lobbying and learning efforts. Ethan conducted our training session for MTAPAC’s first annual mission to Washington a few weeks ago, and also helped with the scheduling.

On Tuesday night, we all huddled into Weissberg Commons to attend the training session with many college students. Rabbi Brander, Dean of YU’s Center for the Jewish Future, delivered an amazing speech about how he used to be a personal assistant for Rabbi Soloveitchik in the final years that he was here on campus as a student. He told of an amusing incident in which Menachem Begin, the prime minister of Israel at the time, personally called Rabbi Soloveitchik and asked him to attend a protest over an anti-Israel event in Massachusetts. Rabbi Brander remembers hearing The Rav say that if Menachem Begin calls on him, how could he ever not listen and not help defend Israel. This was a powerful message of The Rav; we, on this trip, would be having the opportunity to defend Israel, our homeland. We don’t live in Israel, but we can still do many great things for the nation, even here in America. Lobbying is of critical importance because, as we know, Israel is America’s greatest ally. When visiting members of Congress, we are able to help influence this country’s policy making by showing the leaders how much we care about Israel, and why they should care about its welfare as well.
After Rabbi Brander spoke, Judith Frankiel and Ben Scheiner, the two current leaders of YUPAC, both went through the training slides and answered many questions. After this, Jon Kleinhans, the national field organizer for AIPAC, spoke to us and answered questions. I personally was greatly impressed by the professionalism of the evening, even though it was completely run by students. They described lobbying in such a professional and fluid manner that all students, whether having lobbied before or not, knew what to do and what they needed to accomplish at the meetings on Thursday. After the training session, we were excited to ascend Capitol Hill.
Last Thursday, the day that we would participate on the YUPAC Mission to Washington finally arrived. For those of us on the YU campus, the morning began bright and early with 5:20am shacharis in the Rubin Beis Medrash. After davening, we went to gather all the necessary food and items for the trip. Finally, after loading everything, the trip began.

As we left at 6:15 in the morning, most people fell asleep as soon as we began traveling. They continued to do so until we reached a rest stop where everyone woke up in order for us to daven mussaf, as it was Rosh Chodesh, and then to subsequently eat lunch. After packing up the lunches we boarded the buses again for our next stop, AIPAC headquarters.

We arrived at 10:30 and heard from Jonathan Kessler, AIPAC’s Leadership Development Director, who proceeded to tell us the story of how in 1943, 400 rabbis marched to the capital with over 1 million signatures and proof of what was happening in Europe at the time. Over 2 million Jews had already been murdered; they were trying to submit the proof to Congress. However, no congressmen were willing to meet with them. Finally, one Jewish congressman agreed to meet with them, but as he saw the evidence he said, “Why are you presenting this burden to me? They already don’t like the Jews; why are you creating another reason for them to hate us?” He therefore refused to present it to Congress and turned the rabbis away. They then proceeded to the White House, but were also turned away as the president said he was too busy for them. His secretary agreed to receive the petition, but would not meet with them. They ended up staying in the capital until sunset but then left, feeling ashamed for not being heard.

Mr. Kessler then explained to us that in today’s day and age, we have the unique opportunity to be heard. As lobbyists, we are able to go and voice our opinions. This is a unique opportunity, so we shouldn’t take it for granted

We then had a teleconference with Rabbi Josh Joseph, Vice-President and Chief-of-Staff to President Joel at YU. He told all of us how proud YU is of us and he stressed the tremendous importance of our work.

Afterwards, to end the AIPAC part of the trip, Ester Kurtz, Director of Legislative Strategy and Policy for AIPAC, reviewed the three topics with us and answered any last minute questions that students had. She has been lobbying for 30 years, so all her tips definitely helped students prepare. Finally, we got on the buses, and after a short 10 minute ride finally arrived at our destination, Capitol Hill.

As everyone was broken up into groups, I can only tell you my perspective and personal adventure for the rest of the day. My group composed of myself and four other YU/Stern students, and fellow MTAer Shaya Kestenbaum(’14). We first visited Congressmen Bill Pascrell Jr.’s office, congressmen of northern NJ. As we were leaving, he walked in, so he quickly ushered us into his office for a quick picture with him. This personally was my first time meeting a congressman.

Anyway, after that meeting we walked over to the senate buildings, a nice 15 minute walk in the beautiful DC weather. We then proceeded to Senator Menendez’s office where we waited in the waiting room. As we were waiting, we saw the foreign relations committee meeting on the television screen, as Senator Menendez is in charge of the foreign relations committee. It was a hearing regarding the crisis in Syria now. Afterwards, we proceeded to our lobbying, and I mentioned the video we saw in MTA that week of Rabbi Meir Lau telling President Obama to not be late. We just remembered the 6 million Jews murdered, and we cannot risk endangering the 6 million Jews currently in Israel.

As we were leaving, we were discussing what we were going to do for the next hour and forty-five minutes, the aid who we spoke to asked us if we would go like to see the foreign relations committee meeting. We said yes, just trying to be nice, but once we walked in, we were amazed to have walked into exactly the same room that we had seen on the television just a half hour before. Even more amazing, was that right across the room, only 30 feet away, was Senator John McCain. To his right, at the center of the semicircle, was Senator Menendez, whom we had just come out of his office. Instantaneously we were all in awe of walking into such an important meeting.

As we saw on the TV before, the discussion was about Syria and whether or not the US should arm the rebels with lethal weapons to aid them in their revolution in Syria. The conversation got heated very quickly, with John McCain asking Ambassador Ford, previous Ambassador to Syria, whether or not he thinks applying a no-fly zone over Syria would help the rebels. Ford replied, “Mr. Senator, I am an economist not a military strategist.” To which Senator McCain immediately responded, “If you are an economist, what are you doing here?” This was met by many chuckles from the audience, including the hundred or so reporters. After this interaction, Senator McCain said, “No further questions,” and the panel came to an end. We then left the room amazed at how lucky we were to have gotten the opportunity to see such a high-level meeting in person.

After that, our group met the aid of Senator Johnson of Wisconsin (great name) in the hallway outside the hearing room.

We all then took a break from the congress and went into the Supreme Court. We went and took a picture outside the room with the 9 Supreme Court seats, one for every justice. Afterwards we enjoyed a short walk back to the Capitol for the final speaker of the day, and probably the most anticipated one of them all, House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor.

In the Capitol, all 165 of us gathered to hear the final day’s speech from Congressman Eric Cantor. As a Jew, arguably the most influential Jew in the House, Congressmen Cantor reiterated the fact that what we are doing is so important and to keep it up. He also told us of how he was at the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony that day in Washington. He then concluded with the story that I had actually told Senator Menendez’s aids about regarding Rabbi Lau. Hearing it from him was just amazing, and I am sure everyone in the room felt the exact same way.

To conclude the day, we enjoyed a nice pizza and fries dinner on the lawn outside the Capitol. After Davening Minchah, we proceeded to the buses, thought to be getting back to YU at 11. Amazingly, we arrived back at YU at 11:00 on the dot, something I never did on any trip, getting back exactly on time.

In conclusion, I really want to say that the day was made possible by two YU students. They put in so much work, in order to allow us to have such an amazing day. This just comes to show us that, “If there’s a will, there’s a way.” Many times we doubt ourselves and what we can accomplish. However, if we actually said, “no I can do this if I put my mind to it,” many times we will succeed even beyond our wildest dreams.

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