Samantha Dubrinsky: Searching For Friends At AIPAC; Beaming Amid The Bananas

SEARCHING FOR FRIENDS AT THE AIPAC CONFERENCE

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By Samantha Dubrinsky, BJF Staff Associate

Being part of the Birmingham delegation to the current American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, DC is electrifying. Gathering in our nation's capital with 13,000 other Israel lovers from all over the world is empowering, exciting and like no other experience I have had.

AIPAC does a wonderful job of highlighting Israel's successes, including the innovative technology being developed there, as well as the contributions being made by Israel to the rest of the world. In addition, AIPAC showcases the strength and deep history of the United States' relationship with Israel in a dynamic and uplifting way.

However, AIPAC, which educates Members of Congress and others about the importance of a strong US-Israel relationship and how it benefits both countries, does not sugarcoat the issues. The conference is emphasizing the many struggles Israel faces. One of the common themes throughout this conference has been that Israel does not have many friends.

AIPAC has broad plenary sessions and smaller breakout sessions that focus on topics regarding Israel, the Middle East and US ties to the region. Two breakout sessions I attended addressed the issue of Israel's allies -- or lack thereof -- in very different ways. However, the message coming out of these breakout sessions was universal and vital to the longevity of Israel. Regardless of an individual's political views, religious views, race, or economic background, Israel and its success is not just an issue for the Jewish people; it is an issue for all Americans and human beings.

The first breakout session I attended focused on a bipartisan approach to Israel. AIPAC has reached out to over 2,000 students from all 50 states and many students attended this session. The students discussed how Israel has become a polarizing issue on campuses across the US.

The leaders of the session emphasized that supporting Israel does not necessarily mean that you are a Republican or a Democrat -- it simply means that you care about human rights, the success of democracy, and many other American values. It also was stressed that students should recognize that whatever their politics may be, Israel does not have many friends. Because of this, it is vital that politics be put aside so that Israel can be viewed fairly.

The Birmingham Jewish Federation has recognized that Israel can be a sticky situation on college campuses and has worked to implement a program called Step Up For Israel which helps prepare high school students for any anti-Israel sentiments they may experience on campus. The BJF also serves as an Israel resource to our state's college campuses.

EVANGELICALS & ISRAEL

The other breakout session I attended echoed this same lesson. It was a session on Christian evangelicals and their passion for Israel. The idea that evangelical Christians are friends of Israel is not a foreign concept to us at The BJF. However, those attending the session and asking questions were generally from areas of the country where the Jewish and evangelical Christian communities are not as close as we are in Birmingham. These individuals were surprised that there is such a strong love for Israel in the evangelical community.

Though some Jews have reservations when interacting with such Christians, fearing their hidden motives are to convert Jews to Christianity, many evangelical Christians are passionate about Israel and care about the plight of the Jewish people. In fact, some of the Christians leading our breakout session are working directly with their US Senators and Representatives to strengthen support for Israel in Congress.

This conference, which began Sunday and concludes today, has done an especially good job of emphasizing how important it is to break down barriers between groups, so that a broad coalition of American citizens can work together to support a strong US-Israel relationship.

I am glad I am here and part of it all. The conference has tied in perfectly with the pro-Israel work we do at The BJF everyday in so many ways.

Photo, from left, is of BJF Staff Associate Samantha Dubrinsky, BJF Assistant Executive Director Daniel Odrezin and Temple Emanu-El's Rabbi Laila Haas at the current AIPAC conference.

BEAMING AMID THE BANANAS

By Richard Friedman, BJF Executive Director

It "pays" to go to the grocery store. Especially in Birmingham, where you invariably run into friends who are committed to our Jewish community. My wife, Sally, who is Executive Director of The Birmingham Jewish Foundation, and I had that experience the other day.

In the fruit section in Publix on Overton Road, right near the bananas, we ran into a good friend. This was someone we hadn't seen in a while with whom we have enjoyed a nice relationship over the years. A warm and caring man, he has been involved in our Jewish community for decades.

He lit up when he saw us -- and with good reason. He told us that he and his wife had made the decision to leave a large insurance policy to The Foundation that will benefit our Jewish community once they have passed away.

He was well aware of a continuing and incredibly successful Federation/Foundation effort known as "Our Next 100 Years," which, among other things, is raising large sums of money, mostly in deferred gifts, to guarantee the vitality and success of our community for generations to come.

The purpose is not to relieve future generations of their obligation to give money to support the community, but rather to give them a qualitative edge, so they can focus instead on Jewish creativity, innovation and continued growth. Our Next 100 Years provides each of us with the opportunity to be an "arm around the shoulders" of those who will come after us, even those we will never meet.

This friend asked us for some recommendations regarding some technical issues pertaining to the gift, and then asked that Federation Assistant Executive Director Daniel Odezin, who he has gotten to know over the years and already admires, follow up with him.

UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY

Daniel and BJF staff member Amanda Sokol have been working closely with Sally and me on Our Next 100 Years. They are in their 20s. The four of us working together will create continuity that donors can have faith in, and a knowledge base at the Federation regarding those people who made such wonderful and lasting gifts and what their goals and desires were.

Running into this friend at the grocery story was great -- it was a culmination philanthropically of an ongoing professional relationship that Sally and I have had with this couple for decades. And most of all, he was beaming -- yes, beaming as he told us about the insurance policy.

You could see how happy he was to tell us and how proud he was that he would be doing something lasting and significant to benefit our Jewish community for our next 100 years and beyond.

To learn more about Our Next 100 Years, please contact Federation Executive Director Richard Friedman at richardf@bjf.org or 205-803-1525 or Foundation Executive Director Sally Friedman at sallyf@bjf.org or 205-803-1519.