Dr. Ben Chouake and Senator Mitch McConnell

By Larry Gordon

Notorious bank robber Willie Sutton was asked at the end of his long and not-so-illustrious career why he spent so much of his life planning and then actually robbing banks, to which he poign­antly responded, “Because that’s where the money is.” Well, there may be a lot of money in Washington, DC but that is not the reason we are going with NORPAC to the nation’s capital on May 13. We are going because DC is where the power is–that is, important decision-making power.

Dr. Ben Chouake  and Senator Mitch McConnell
Dr. Ben Chouake
and Senator Mitch McConnell

Now, I’ve known Trudy and Stanley Stern for a few years. They are important activists and advocates for Israel. Stanley is the Long Island chairman of NORPAC and they have hosted leading senators, congressmen, and ambassadors in their home over these last many years. In addition, they have asked and sometimes urged us to come along with them to Washington for the all-important NORPAC mission and to lobby our elected representatives in Congress. Until now, I had resisted, because the day in DC takes place on a Wednesday which is a very busy day here in my office. But this time around I could not, in good conscience, decline. So my wife and I are joining the Sterns and more than 1,300 others from our area to fan out and make our voices heard to our elected representatives on the vital issues of the day.

NORPAC - Dinner with Kirsten Gillibrand

We are going to leave New York at about 5:00 a.m. that day, daven, and have breakfast on the bus as well as go over last-minute talking points and strategies on the approach to our elected officials in the course of the day ahead. But before we begin to understand what the objective of that day is going to be and what we hope to accomplish, let’s first analyze what the flip-side of this effort would be. That would be not going, not being involved in the political process, simply not doing anything.

Larry Gordon with Senator Kelly Ayotte
Larry Gordon with Senator Kelly Ayotte

Let’s face it; this is the most common reaction that most of us have the majority of the time. We don’t like Senator Schumer’s noncommittal stance on President Obama’s Iran plans, and we are just at a loss to understand Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s absolute silence and noninvolvement in this all-important issue of life and death, war and peace.

At the same time, we want to encourage those like Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, outspoken proponents of what is good and right. And we want to communicate our concerns to relative newcomers to the Senate like Cory Booker, who seems torn between his commitment to some policies and the political expediencies involved in opposing the Obama policy on ongoing talks with Iran.

Dr. Ben Chouake is a prime moving force behind NORPAC and a tireless foot soldier in the battle to keep the agenda of a healthy U.S.-Israel relationship a priority agenda item in Congress. As to whether or not this year’s NORPAC mission is more important than any other to date, Dr. Chouake said, “They are all important, but this year’s mission on May 13 is particularly compelling.”

The reason for that is somewhat obvious and can be summed up in one word–Iran. NORPAC, which was founded in 1992 by the OU kashrus director and Englewood rabbi, Rabbi Menachem Genack, has become the most active and prolific political-action committee over the last two decades. The objective is to keep support of Israel on the agendas in Washington and this is done through personal relationships with legislators supplemented by support for their reelection campaigns whenever they come around.

To that end, there are very few experts like Ben Chouake when it comes to understanding how successful and effective influence at this level works. In our conversation earlier this week, I asked Dr. Chouake what kind of impact 1,500 people in a country this large can have by descending on the nation’s capital for a day. He explained that the effort is far from insignificant, and that as far as how elected officials measure these things, the NORPAC mission is huge.

He explained that in DC the following equation on lobbying is taken very seriously. He said that when an elected official receives a letter from a constituent, it is considered that the opinion expressed in the communication represents that of ten people. A phone call is considered the equivalent of expressing a position of 100 people. And a personal visit to Capitol Hill is considered as if each visitor is representative of 10,000 people. That means that, by this Washington DC standard, our NORPAC group on May 13 will pack the punch of 1.5 million people. This is quite an awesome and even overwhelming effort.

On the vital dimension of this year’s mission to Washington, Long Island chairman Stanley Stern says, “We live in very divisive times and it is extremely important that we let our positions be known to those in power in Congress.” NORPAC differs dramatically from AIPAC, Stern said, because as a political-action committee, NORPAC sprinkles around over $1 million annually to help fund election campaigns.

Additionally important is that the NORPAC effort is a bipartisan one. For my part, I have attended fundraisers in the Stern home in Lawrence for Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Tom Harkin, and Bob Menendez. And I’ve heard Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell, Mike Enzi, and Kelly Ayotte in the same home speaking to much of the same crowd.

And that is the testament to what NORPAC has accomplished and is accomplishing in terms of the U.S.-Israel relationship during these unusual political times.

That some senators like Booker in New Jersey and Gillibrand in New York have been noncommittal on legislation that limits the president’s flexibility and independence on the Iran deal does not diminish the strength and the veracity of their relationship or the esteem in which they are held by NORPAC leaders. Ben Chouake explains that while many members are disappointed in Gillibrand and her refusal to speak out on an issue that is of such great concern to so many of her constituents, it is something that they continue to work on as they encourage her to take a more definitive position. “Her constituents want to hear from her, they want to know where she stands. It is surprising that she has been so quiet,” he said.

On Senator Booker, Chouake says, he knows that the senator understands the issues well but that he has a special and unique relationship with President Obama and that he insists on giving the president the benefit of the doubt. So in this case, it is not just a matter of policy but a position that has larger and personal considerations built into it.

One of the great puzzles that you can be assured NORPAC mission members will address is that the U.S. is on the verge of signing a nuclear agreement with Iran while neglecting for the most part Iran’s overt support of terror activities around the world. The unanswered question remains: How can that regime be trusted to adhere to a deal while they continue to grow as the sponsors of massive terror operations in Syria, Libya, Lebanon, and Yemen and a country at war with the U.S. for over 36 years? It’s a puzzle wrapped in a mystery.

So I asked Ben Chouake whether the Iran deal has eclipsed all the other agenda items that would otherwise be a greater focus on these missions. His response is that the teams of people that will fan out in the Capitol in mid-May will cover the Iranian nemesis but will include discussion of other important items like Israel’s relations with the Palestinian Authority, legislation against BDS, and the U.S. foreign aid bill, amongst other issues.

So you have probably surmised after reading all this why we cannot just nonchalantly look aside or pretend that this is not a unique and significant time to spend the day standing up and being heard and counted as a member of an effort that has as its chief priority the safety and security of the state of Israel. Hope to see you there.

Katmandu Report

Israel reacted quickly to the devastating earthquake in Nepal over last weekend with a joint team of ZAKA, United Hatzalah, and Magen David Adom medical teams flying into the devastation zones to provide immediate medical care to survivors of the disaster.

On Tuesday, Eli Beer of Hatzalah in Israel put me in touch with his team leader on the ground in Nepal, Dovie Misell. I hooked up with him on his cell phone while he was in Katmandu on Tuesday night. He said he had arrived the day before and was in the process of setting up medical clinic-like tents in order to deal with the injured.

The three groups arrived in Nepal on a joint mission with the Israelis–the first of the members of the international community to land people on the ground there to dispense much needed and almost instant medical assistance.

Dovie Missel says that he is one of 25 paramedics who will spend the next 2-3 weeks in Nepal caring for the wounded. He says that where he was stationed in Katmandu there were collapsed buildings and people living in the fields. Though, he added, the most severe damage inflicted by last weekend’s 7.8-on-the-Richter-scale earthquake was about three and a half hours west of the city.

Over the next few days, he and his team will be slowly moving in the direction of the worst of the devastation. When we spoke on Tuesday, Missel reported, there were still 11 Israelis missing but that number was reduced to six on Wednesday. He said that the six are accounted for but as of our conversation rescue squads have not been able to reach them.

As to what his plans were for Shabbos, he said that he and his team if still in Katmandu would be based around the well-established Chabad House there. If not near the city as Shabbos approaches, he said, his team is traveling with tents that can be set up almost anywhere and they have food and a seferTorah with them so as to be able to observe Shabbos according to tradition.

As far as being able to reach him to get updates, he said that cell-phone signals are spotty and that there are wide areas where there is no electrical power at all.

So Israel is far ahead of the rest of the civilized world in promptly dispatching aid to those so desperately in need. In total, between the private organizations like ZAKA and Hatzalah, there are over 250 Israelis on the ground, including doctors, nurses, and members of the IDF.

Nepal - United Hatzalah tough conditions Nepal - United Hatzalah treating victim Nepal - United Hatzalah with debris Nepal - United Hatzalah with shade

It is unclear how operations will continue in light of new reports that the Israeli Foreign Ministry is advising its nationals to leave Nepal, fearing disease and violence after desperate Nepalis clashed with riot police over supplies and aid.

According to Arutz Sheva, “Foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said the warning came after helicopters sent to evacuate Israeli citizens were mobbed and attacked by Nepalis trying to get on board.”

Still, the UN and their so-called Human Rights Council will vilify Israel for their oppressiveness and discriminatory ways. Is this why Israel is so quick to react–to blunt that pervasive international criticism? That might be a small part of it, but nowhere near the major motivating factor here. This is just the way Jews react to other people’s tzaros.

And all those other countries, Israel’s biggest critics–you won’t find any sign of them anywhere near Nepal.

Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at editor@5tjt.com.



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