In September 2009, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to American Jewish leaders at the 92nd Street Y, he recalled that as a young ambassador to the UN, he was advised by the Lubavitcher Rebbe that he would be entering “a house of darkness and lies.” The Rebbe gave him a “mission to light a candle for truth and for the Jewish people,” he said.
In recent times, it is not only the predictable UN and Israel’s sworn enemies that paint her with darkness and lies. New to the mix are progressive and enlightened bodies. European countries have shown anti-Israel sentiment coming from the top down; in the halls of higher learning, in Europe, Canada and the US, college campuses have turned into hotbeds of propaganda where students quickly learn that it is cool to demonize Israel.
The effect is corrosive. Any lie repeated persistently enough begins to resonate credibly. At the very least, it erodes the confidence of those who know better. Some begin to doubt themselves; others recognize the false narrative, but are intimidated to dispute it.
So hearing Mr. Netanyahu speak, first last week, then at AIPAC and then to a joint meeting in the Congress, I had the feeling that he was carrying the Rebbe’s message close to his heart.
Although his words were parsed this way and that by political analysts trying to tease out his position on peace with the Arabs, on President Obama’s mid-east policy speech, with some suggesting that in the end, these speeches were a lot of talk about “nothing,” it seemed to me that if in fact he accomplished nothing else, Mr. Netanyahu lit a candle for truth and for the Jewish people.
This AIPAC conference was a first for me. Seeing 10,000 people—Jews of every denomination, non Jews, and an impressive bi-partisan representation from Congress and the Senate—stand up for Israel, for the Jewish homeland, for the truth—was like seeing a bright break in the dark clouds that hang low over Israel today.
AIPAC and Chabad-Lubavitch have distinct missions: Chabad-Lubavitch is religious, AIPAC is not. But as a Lubavitcher, I found shared values, particularly as concerns the security and integrity of the Jewish homeland, that made me feel at home. The feelings were mutual.
US Senator Mark Kirk, a member of the Senate appropriations subcommittee, spoke to packed sessions on the dangers of a nuclear Iran. At the end of his talk, I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions.
The Senator from Illinois who enjoys warm friendships with Chabad-Lubavitch of Chicago and of Highland Park said he saw Chabad-Lubavitch as playing a vital role for Israel.
“Chabad gives a new force to pro-Israel advocacy,” he told me. “At a time when the generations are changing, Chabad gives hope that in the 21st century, a new generation doesn’t forget, and remains strong supporters of Israel.”
Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the Chabad-Lubavitch representative to Washington D.C. is a familiar face at AIPAC. Working the halls of the convention center, Rabbi Levi greeted Chabad-Lubavitch colleagues and friends who walk the corridors of Congress and the Senate, making introductions, connecting people like puzzle pieces—not for political purposes, but for the benefit of a Jewish community, a Jewish cause.
“There is no one in Washington that does what Rabbi Levi does,” Howard Friedman, the President Emeritus of AIPAC told me. “He’s not political. He is completely dedicated to promoting Torah here.” Presidents come and go, Friedman offered, but Rabbi Levi is always there doing his thing.
Talk around the Shemtov Shabbos table this past Friday night was lively. Among the guests were the Senior Vice President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, a former Congressman seeking to regain his seat in the new elections, and an AIPAC political activist, as well as several journalists and college students from Canada.
As Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi of the nation’s capital, Levi has supervised the koshering of the White House kitchen on many occasions during several administrations—most recently earlier this month for the Jewish Heritage Month dinner, raising appreciation and awareness for Jewish tradition at the world’s most famous address.
Back at AIPAC, ten thousand people, different in many ways stood together in support of transcendent causes that empower Jewish unity worthy of celebration: the eternal covenant of the Jewish people, the Jewish homeland, the Torah.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe often said that there is no such thing as coincidence. To this Lubavitcher, the fact that the AIPAC conference fell on Lag B’Omer, a historic holiday celebrating unity among the Jewish people, seemed no small coincidence.