When I lived in New York City in the 1980’s, I did volunteer work for AIPAC – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. They are not a PAC, despite those letters in their name. They are a lobby group, dedicated to promoting a strong American-Israeli relationship and supporting pro-Israel policies in the U.S. Congress. As part of that larger mission, they strive to keep Americans and their government informed about issues relating to Israel and the Jewish community all over the world.
The point of this story has nothing to do with AIPAC’s overall purpose. It has to do with my little area of influence – volunteers in the New York City office. My job was to organize the volunteers and find something for them to do. No one before me had figured out what to do with these interested and enthusiastic people.
I came up with a brilliant idea. I decided to provide educational programs in the form of discussion groups. So I started planning social evenings, usually at my home but sometimes at the home of another volunteer. I always had a few other volunteers working with me on the logistics for these evenings.
AIPAC and I provided the food and drink for the event and the speaker. I managed to find interesting speakers with expertise in a wide range of issues. It turned out to be a very popular format. The interactive discussions were very lively, enjoyable and informative.
Some of these subjects involved specific issues faced by Israel and the Arabs in the Middle East. Some involved the plight of Jews being persecuted in other parts of the world. I remember there was a crisis in Ethiopia that resulted in a mass emigration of poor Ethiopian Jews to Israel. This caused serious assimilation problems in Israel, which we talked about. Another major topic was antisemitism in the U.S. One evening focused on Louis Farrakhan, a charismatic black religious leader and activist who praised Hitler. We had a video of a speech he gave saying that Hitler’s main failing was that he didn’t do a thorough enough job on the Jews.
I kept these events going for about two years. We got good turn outs and rave reviews. This was the only ongoing AIPAC program in the entire New York area.
I was proud that I created a successful format that got people involved and educated. But sadly, I couldn’t find anyone to run the program when I left. I’m afraid it just died out. But I took what could have been a pro forma, nothing job and turned it into something. And I had fun doing it.