Rabbi Gregory Marx, religious leader of Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen, noticed a change in focus at this year’s annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Far more than in the past, he said, the program focused attention on Israeli contributions to the world, rather than solely concentrating on threats facing the country.
As an example, said Marx, a repeat attendee, he pointed to a speech given at the gathering by Nadav Ben-Yehuda, the Israeli mountain climber who last May chose not to summit Mount Everest but instead came to the aid of a seriously injured Turkish climber. In doing so, he risked his life.
“I perceived a concerted effort to communicate the positive side of Israel,” Marx said, citing Israel’s scientific advances in particular. The rabbi was one of more than 400 people from the Philadelphia area — including two dozen students from the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel and Temple — who attended the conference this week.
Marx said he was particularly moved by Vice President Joe Biden, who told the audience that AIPAC is one of the few organizations that can get 13,000 people to come to Washington, D.C., at their own expense — a fact that demonstrates to lawmakers how passionate the electorate is about Israel.
Randy Schultz, a 33-year-old Philadelphian attending his second conference, took in an evening reception for conference participants and lawmakers from the Mid-Atlantic region. In such an intimate setting, Schultz said, he was able to personally thank Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey for their continued support of aid to Israel.
“This expression of unanimous, bipartisan enthusiasm — I really was struck by that,” he said. “It’s invigorating.”
Drexel senior MJ Wayne, who attended AIPAC receptions hosted by Hillel and BBYO, said she was amazed to see how many college students in attendance weren’t even Jewish.
Wayne, who is majoring in marketing and legal studies, said she was particularly struck by a session focused on the Iron Dome defense technology, featuring footage of missiles fired from Gaza being shot out of the sky.
“It is amazing to see how that technology works,” she said, “and it makes me want to get more money thrown into that.”