Spring may not have come yet to Washington, DC, but at week's end, the unique relationship between the United States and Israel was in full bloom.
Several hundred Jewish leaders from across the U.S. journeyed to the capital to offer their gratitude to members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives for their staunch support of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Nearly two dozen Members of Congress, ranging from ultra-conservative to extremely liberal in their political ideologies, put partisanship aside and participated in this special program in order to stand united with the State of Israel.
Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, spoke about his trip to Israel and how much he enjoyed being there. He told the crowd how he sang Hebrew songs together with a group of rabbis at the Western Wall, even though he had no idea what the words meant. However, the statement that received thunderous applause was, “It is not our job to tell Israelis where they can or cannot build."
The Iron Dome Congressional Tribute, which was coordinated by Ezra Friedlander and The Friedlander Group, was chaired by Robert Rechnitz, a prominent Los Angeles based Jewish philanthropist and businessman who is the Principal of Bomel Companies.
This historic event was touted as a celebration of the everlasting U.S.-Israel alliance and a tribute to the United States Congress for the Iron Dome Missile Defense System.
In addition, there was a special tribute to the memory of Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who was described as a courageous defender of the State of Israel, a stalwart supporter of the bond between the U.S. and Israel, and one of the individuals who was instrumental in securing the funding for the Iron Dome.
During the recent Pillar of Defense operation in November 2012, the world witnessed the technological marvels of the Iron Dome Missile Defense System and the manner in which it saved the lives of thousands of civilians. With hundreds of deadly rockets raining down on Israeli cities, the Iron Dome effectively disabled the overwhelming majority of those rockets and prevented widespread devastation. Since 2009, the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress have allocated an unprecedented $275 million in funding for the Iron Dome.
In his introductory remarks, Robert Rechnitz noted that everyone in the room was there to give thanks to the United States. “We have no political agenda,” said Mr. Rechnitz. “We are here to simply offer our gratitude to the United States for its unwavering support of Israel.”
Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi talked about the great relationship between Israel and the United States over the past 65 years. “Israel lives in a very unwelcoming and hostile neighborhood,” said Senator Wicker. “That is why we need to support the Iron Dome.”
After giving a “shout out” to “the best ambassador in town – Michael Oren,” Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, a vocal supporter of Israel, noted that she is introducing the Iron Dome Support Act, which is a testament to how much the U.S. values its relationship with Israel. “The Iron Dome saved thousands of lives and it must continue to do so,” said Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen.
Referring to the United States and Israel, Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who is a Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee, said that “our interests are the same and I am going to make sure that it stays that way.”
Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California got the crowd laughing while discussing his recent trip to Israel. “When your name is Adam and you’re married to a woman named Eve, going to Israel is like coming home. What can I say? It’s bashert.”
Ambassador Oren discussed President Obama’s upcoming trip to Israel and remarked that his visit “will demonstrate an unbreakable alliance and an iron clad commitment between the United States and Israel.”
In addition, the Ambassador paid tribute to the late Senator Daniel Inouye and introduced his widow, Irene Inouye.
Mrs. Inouye talked about how much her husband had valued the strong bond between the U.S. and Israel. “Dan wanted peace,” she said. “I hope that it will be achieved in our lifetime.”
Chaskel Bennett, a noted community leader from Brooklyn, talked about the scene that unfolds in southern Israel when the siren sounds to warn of an incoming rocket. “When a siren sounds, you have 15 seconds to get to safety,” he said. “Yes, we believe in G-d and prayer, but the Iron Dome is a game changer.”
Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, spent some time talking about the tremendous vision that Senator Inouye had when it came to the bond between the U.S. and Israel.
R. James Woolsey, the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and currently the Chairman of Woolsey Partners, LLC, discussed the remarkable nature of the Iron Dome System. “The Iron Dome is inventive and successful,” he said. “It avoids wasting defense on incoming rockets that won’t hit anywhere sensitive.”
When Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, the Executive Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis, introduced Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, he elicited laughter from the crowd when he said, “as they say in Hawaii, ‘shaloa.’”
Senator Schatz talked about his predecessor, Senator Inouye, and the demonstration of his unwavering support of Israel when he secured funds for the Iron Dome. “No one can fill his shoes,” he said, referring to Senator Inouye, “but we have to follow in his footsteps.” He also talked about the significance of maintaining a strong bond with Israel. “Partisan politics cannot get in the way of Israel’s security and our relationship with her.”
Republican Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona said “After the Holocaust, the Jews wiped away their tears and they built a nation. The Nazis are gone, but Israel remains.”
Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, the Ranking Member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that the Iron Dome “allowed the United States to put its money where its mouth is.”
Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, said that, “Israel has a right to exist and we have to defend that right at every opportunity.”
Other individuals who spoke at the tribute luncheon included Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Democratic Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas. In addition, the crowd heard from Tevi Troy, the former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and President George W. Bush’s liaison to the Jewish community.
Upon the conclusion of the tribute luncheon, the attendees participated in a White House briefing with members of the Obama administration, including Zachary Kelly, President Obama’s liaison to the Jewish community, and Eric Lynn, a senior policy advisor on Mideast affairs at the State Department.
The Members of Congress and the White House officials walked away from the event with a clear sense of just how much the Jewish community appreciates their support of the Iron Dome System and their commitment to further cementing and enhancing the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Iron Dome Chairman Robert Rechnitz concluded by declaring “In an environment where partisanship often causes rifts among our elected officials, it was extremely heartwarming to see that our leaders in Washington were able to bridge their partisan divides and stand in unison with American Jewish leaders at the historic Iron Dome Congressional Tribute."
Video: Shmuel Lenchevsky