At the end of World War II, my grandparents had survived Hitler's failed final solution and left Europe for the Middle East where my grandfather joined the newly established Israel Defense Forces, on the front lines, defending the State of Israel in its infancy. In the wake of the horror and destruction that was the Shoah, the survival of the Jewish people, let alone the survival of the burgeoning Jewish state, was in question. Arab armies were attacking from all sides and Israel received little support and assistance from the rest of the world. Since that time, Israel has survived and grown into a thriving democracy and shining example of Jewish ingenuity and persistence. However, the world remains in a state of disarray, a place where terrorism abounds and much of the world stands by as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls for Israel to be "wiped out from the map."
The real difference today is that we, as American Jews, have a voice and we are not taking our voice for granted. This year, from March 5-7, I once again used that voice as I stood with thousands of fellow American pro-Israel political activists to ensure our great nation's continued support of Israel at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. Together we learned about the important and vexing issues facing Israel. Together we stood up for Israel. And together, we made a real difference.
We were joined by more than 1,000 American college students who, with AIPAC's support and training, are taking back their campuses from anti-Zionist rhetoric and propaganda. In fact, the most poignant moment of the policy conference was watching hundreds of student body presidents from our nation's universities pack the conference stage and pledge their support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. Most striking was the fact that many of these students were not Jews. They represented campuses from across the country, including historically black colleges and universities and Christian campuses, as well as college Democrats and college Republicans.
In a true show of support, more than half of the members of Congress joined us at the conference's gala dinner (which I understand is the largest gathering of Congress besides the State of the Union and other joint congressional sessions). And, the next morning, more than 4,500 of us marched on Capitol Hill to lobby members of Congress on both sides of the aisle about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons and other crucial issues affecting the U.S.-Israel relationship.
I am proud that our region sent more delegates than any other -- more than 700 pro-Israel activists; Jews and non-Jews, representing the entire political spectrum, including rabbis and lay leaders from Reform, Conservative and Orthodox congregations throughout Southern California. I was honored to join them as we met with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and heard about her ongoing work to dissuade Iran from going nuclear. I then led a group of students from the University of Oklahoma in lobbying the office of Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) on these important issues.
You might ask why an attorney from Los Angeles lobbied a congressman from Oklahoma? Well, the answer lies in all that is AIPAC. While I am blessed in Los Angeles to be represented by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Sens. Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, there are 533 other members of Congress, many of whom do not have large Jewish constituencies. AIPAC has taught me and other pro-Israel activists about the importance of reaching out to these lawmakers far away from our own homes. In doing so, we foster special relationships with these members of Congress and serve as resources to these elected officials who might otherwise not be sensitized to the issues facing the Middle East's only democracy. In the end, a representative from Oklahoma has the same vote as a representative from Los Angeles, and before a vote is cast on an issue affecting Israel, AIPAC members ensure that all members of Congress have all of the information they need to support Israel.
To say that the policy conference is an empowering and effective three days is an understatement in every regard. And while I am always reassured that, thanks to AIPAC, the U.S.-Israel relationship remains strong, I also know that we cannot afford to take that relationship for granted. To repeat the theme of this year's policy conference, "Now Is the Time" for all of us who care about the survival of Israel to become engaged in AIPAC's vital work. I never had to wonder what my grandfather did to ensure Israel's survival -- he physically defended its borders after World War II. I know that because of my support of AIPAC, including my participation at the policy conference, my future children and grandchildren will also not wonder what I did for Israel in its time of need.
Daniel Gryczman is an attorney at the firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips in Los Angeles.