By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — The upcoming AIPAC Policy Conference, the relationship between the United States and Israel, and the values clash between Jewish parents and children were the central topics of a Wednesday, Oct. 28 program at the Ann & Nate Levine Academy of Dallas.
Lillian Pinkus, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) president-elect who will begin her term as president in March 2016, was first during the program. She was interviewed for a little over 15 minutes by her sons, Aaron Pinkus and Jared Pinkus.
Taking the stage afterward was Ed Feinstein, senior rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California. He spoke for a little under an hour — his comments powerful and occasionally humorous.
The rabbi, incidentally, has local ties: He was associate rabbi at Congregation Shearith Israel from 1982 to 1990 and also the founding director of the Solomon Schechter Academy, now known as Levine Academy of Dallas.
Levine Academy’s Beit Aryeh Auditorium was fairly full during the program, which was titled “A Journey to Washington D.C.: How We Can Strengthen the U.S.-Israel Relationship.”
The event was sponsored by Adat Chaverim, Anshai Torah, Beth Torah, Shaare Tefila, Shearith Israel, Temple Emanu-El and Temple Shalom in partnership with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Pinkus — with her thoughts on the upcoming March 20-22 AIPAC Policy Conference — sat down onstage with her two sons for a Q&A.
“We’re so proud of everything she has done to strengthen the America-Israel relationship,” her son, Jared Pinkus, first told the audience.
Jared Pinkus asked his mother to explain how and why she became involved with AIPAC and how that has or hasn’t changed over time.
Lillian Pinkus, the child of two Holocaust survivors, was the first of several Dallas-Fort Worth residents to be named to the national board of AIPAC. She holds a B.A. from Brandeis and an M.Ed. from Harvard.
Turning to the audience, her response to her son’s question was frank.
“Let’s be honest — my sons know my story, right?” she said to audience members. “And they know my story starts with my own parents. As many of you know, they were both Holocaust survivors.”
Pinkus described an incident in which she came upon her parents sitting down at the table with tears running down their cheeks. She asked them what was happening.
They responded, “‘I’m thinking about my mother, who I lost’ or ‘I’m thinking about a child that was taken from your aunt’s arms.’”
Pinkus explained she has an innate understanding of “what life was like for Jews before we had a State of Israel and why it is important for us to advocate for a Jewish state.”
Troubled about the problems and conditions of Israel, Pinkus said she started writing letters to The Dallas Morning News.
“It was really like crying in the wind,” she said. “It didn’t seem to make any difference.”
But one night Pinkus met with Ann and Nate Levine. She learned from them about AIPAC, the focus of which is building and strengthening the relationship between Israel and the United States.
She also learned about the importance of procuring strong bipartisan support for Israel.
“All of sudden it was like a light turned on,” she said. “ … My first exposure to this was in Ann and Nate’s living room.”
Pinkus said she realized she had the power to effect change: She could focus on and advocate for the betterment of Israel.
“I learned about the power,” she said. “… You have to seize it.”
Rabbi Feinstein then took the stage, making a point of congratulating Pinkus for becoming AIPAC president-elect.
Then he offered a local observation.
“I stopped at a 7-Eleven on the way to the hotel this afternoon,” he said. “Someone there in the ice cream section said, ‘Aren’t you Rabbi Feinstein, from Shearith Israel?’ I said, ‘I was once, yes.’ And he said, ‘Well, we don’t get to shul very often.”
The joke drew much laughter, especially when Feinstein followed it up with, “It’s really special to meet my grand-students, you know?”
The rabbi offered anecdotes revolving around Jewish history. But ultimately, his remarks boiled down to one statement: “How do you protect the Jewish population without losing what is essential in Jewish life?”
Rabbi Feinstein discussed the philosophical clash between Jewish parents willing to “do what has to be done” to protect Israel and their children who believe that way of doing things “doesn’t seem right.”
The rabbi urged parents to talk to their children openly and honestly about this disconnect.
“We’re going to lose them — we’re going to lose a generation of young American Jews,” he said. “… This is going to be your responsibility.”
Rabbi Feinstein urged parents to explain to the children what they believe a Jewish state should be, and then ask them to talk about their vision of Israel.
“They’re waiting to be asked that question,” he said “This is the question that will bring generations back even when they object, or not. They’re not coming from a place of hatred. They are not coming from a place of rejection. They are not coming from a place of anger. They come from a place of love. We taught them certain Jewish values and they are looking at those values reflected in a state that has Jewish people.”
On a different note, Rabbi Feinstein said, the upcoming policy convention is about discussing the issues involving Iran and America and the Jewish state.
“As many as 16,000 people are gong to sit down and talk about ‘the Jewish state I want to leave for my kids,’” the rabbi told the audience. “ … If you want there to be a Jewish country … for our kids and their kids, the responsibility is yours.”
After the program, an email was sent out urging attendees to register for next year’s Policy Conference March 20-22, 2016 before the discount expires Nov. 13. Registration, information and videos of past Policy Conference speakers can be found at www.policyconference.org, the email said.