June 3, 2008
L.A. boasts record turnout at AIPAC
WASHINGTON -- At the largest American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in the organization's 55-year history, where more than 7,000 pro-Israel activists from across the nation are attending the three-day summit in Washington D.C., Los Angeles has set a historic record.
During the opening plenary breakfast on June 2, the pro-Israel lobby announced that three out of four synagogue delegations with more than 100 people in attendance were from Los Angeles: Sinai Temple (240), Stephen S. Wise Temple (160) and Valley Beth Shalom (105).
The Southern Pacific Region represents the country's largest delegation to the conference this year with 1,500 attendees coming from Southern California, Southern Nevada, Hawaii and Arizona; 1,250 members of that constituency hail from the greater Los Angeles area.
AIPAC's annual conference attracts scores of pro-Israel supporters, congressmen and world leaders, and culminates with delegates lobbying their representatives at the Capitol Building, an experience that has recently gained momentum in the L.A. community.
"This effort has been building itself," said Donna Bender, 44, an AIPAC lay leader in the San Fernando Valley. "Every year, we are so overwhelmed at the effectiveness [of AIPAC] and access to national leadership that we're getting our friends to come."
Bender added that the presidential election has heightened intergenerational interest in the conference, which saw appearances by all three presidential candidates.
"This is a testimony to our community -- that we care deeply about the issues affecting Israel, that we understand the average citizen can make a difference," she said.
While Los Angeles has been portrayed as lackadaisical in its approach to politics, despite its reputation as a potent source for political contributions, the record attendance at Policy Conference signals a change.
"I don't think L.A. gets enough credit for its political activism," said Michael Tuchin, 43, incoming president of University Synagogue and an avid AIPAC supporter since he was a student at Stanford University.
"Under Elliot Brandt's leadership, we've come a long way," he said, referring to AIPAC's Western States director. "L.A. is on the map; but as one of the largest Jewish communities in the world, we've barely scratched the surface."