Over the past 10 years, I have attended six AIPAC Policy Conferences in Washington D.C. This annual gathering of pro-Israel supporters offers an outstanding array of experiences. You hear and meet important world leaders and key decision makers. You learn from experts on almost any topic affecting the Middle East, Israel, and U.S.-Israel relations. You marvel at demonstrations of Israeli technology and know how. But the experience that always leaves the deepest impression on many is the presence of so many articulate and caring non-Jews in the crowd and on stage.
Yes, AIPAC does a great job recruiting people of many different backgrounds to attend its Policy Conference. Presidents of student bodies from colleges around the country are recruited. African American leaders, young and old, are recruited. Representatives of the Hispanic community are recruited. They come, learn, support, and contribute. And, truly, they come not only because they are recruited, they come because they care deeply about Israel and the Jewish people.
It’s amazing. After six years of attending the largest annual gathering of Jews in the Western Hemisphere, I am still most impressed by the presence of so many non-Jews. And I am not alone. When I asked some of our college students who attended what impressed them the most about the Policy Conference, they also said the presence of so many non-Jews.
Why is this case? Why are we so amazed when non-Jews show love and support for Israel and the Jewish people? I suppose it’s because we Jews are convinced that we are alone. The prophecy of Balaam has proven true. The Jews are “a nation that dwells alone” Ahm l’vadad yishkon. Of course, our history has given us good reason to feel this way… pogrom, expulsion, and Holocaust. But, the truth is, and it’s an important truth, a vital truth, we are not alone.
There are strangers among us whom we should not fear. There are strangers we should welcome and thank. There are strangers among us who are a blessing.
And, of course, we Jews ask “Why?”
“Why would a non-Jew join our cause, support our people, defend our nation?”
It’s difficult for we embattled Jews to understand. But understand we must. For if we misunderstand their motivation, we might come to reject their help and that would be very dangerous. The simple truth is that we can’t survive without them
Why would a non-Jew support our cause and stand by our side. Our Torah portion gives us an answer. Leviticus 22:18 says “Eesh eesh mi’bayt Yisrael oo’min ha’ger b’yisrael asher yakriv korbanoh” – “When any man of the house of Israel or of the stranger in Israel presents a burnt offering…” Rabbi Harold Kushner’s commentary from the Etz Hayim Chumash explains, “Non-Israelites living among the Israelites will be motivated to worship the God of Israel and their offerings will be welcome.”
Non-Israelites, gerim, strangers among us, will be motivated to worship the God of Israel. I understand this to mean, in modern parlance, that when non-Jews get to know us and come close to us, they will be motivated by the God we worship – that is, our values, our practices, our most cherished ideals. Thus we Jews, when we are most Jewish, not when we are assimilated, but when we are worshipping our God, when we are living our highest ideals, then and only then will we be an inspiration to the strangers among us, not all but many, and those strangers will become friends.
I believe this with all of my heart. We Jews are most influential when we are living out our highest ideals. Those hundreds of non-Jewish leaders at AIPAC and, yes, the thousands, even hundreds of thousands, even millions of non-Jewish Zionists, Christian Zionists, Evangelical Christian Zionist support us because they are motivated by our God.
The following are the words of Rev. Kenneth Flowers, a black pastor from Los Angeles, who spoke at a past conference:
“God has ordained me as one of his ambassadors to Israel and to the Jews, and for that I am eternally grateful. I cannot help but speak out on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people because it is in my DNA. And I will continue to be a friend of Israel and the Jewish people even when I receive hate mail and even when it seemed that the world does not understand. Even when I am called a Jew lover in a negative sense. I will continue to stand with Israel and the Jewish people.
“Israel needs friends who are not Jewish and who can lobby Congress on her behalf. Relationships matter. And so as long as I have breath in my body, I will always be a friend to Israel and never, ever turn my back on the land of Israel, nor the people of Israel.”
Rev. Flowers loves Israel because he was a devotee of Dr. Martin Luther King, who loved Israel. Rev. Flowers loves Israel and the Jewish people because he has known Jews living out their highest ideals by helping his community through riots and earthquakes. Rev. Flowers loves Israel and Jews because the God he worships has an enduring covenant with the people of Israel, a covenant that is eternal.
Israel faces many daunting challenges – an almost-nuclear Iran, terrorists at the borders, hostile neighbors, millions who will undermine her very reason for being. AIPAC certainly does a good job of reminding us of these challenges. But AIPAC also reminds us that we Jews and the Jewish state have many friends, from powerful politicians to thoughtful young people. They are our friends, not because they want to convert us or undermine us; they are our friends, the strangers among us, because they are motivated by our God and by us living out our highest ideals.