Supporting Israel. Supporting the DC Economy.

AIPAC Policy Conference 2014Conversion Rate:  A Monthly Column from a DC Young Professional on the Israeli Economy (and other Misc thoughts…)

The doors opened and 14,000 pro-Israel supporters walked through.  This is the 2014 AIPAC Policy Conference.  This is the largest gathering of supporters of the Jewish state in America and possibly the world (outside of Israel).  This is impressive.

In early-March the Washington Convention Center became just a step closer to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  Attendees heard from a long list of influential dignitaries – from Secretary Lew to Senator McCain to Prime Minister Netanyahu.  But this conference is more than sit, listen, clap, repeat.  The voice of AIPAC is more than the speeches.  The reach of AIPAC is more than the 48,000 times the speeches were streamed on YouTube around the world (as I write this blog a week later).  It is more than the boots on the ground and the feet that walk the halls of Congress – sometimes coming in from a late seasonal snowfall – to advocate on behalf of the Jewish state to our elected officials.  It is more than the heartbeat of American Jewry.  It is the full embodiment of the strength and unbreakable bond between the United States, Americans, Israel, and the people of Israel.

It is also an opportunity for DC.  Tourism equates for over $6B of the District’s annual revenue.  Like Taglit-Birthright, the goal of AIPAC isn’t economic.  It is educational.  It is grassroots advocacy.  But the economic benefits are a nice ripple effect.  And as I am the GTJ resident economic nerd blogger – that is exactly what we’re here to discuss in my second post for “Conversion Rate”…

During the kickoff night of AIPAC, I made the foolish and somewhat rookie mistake of trying to go to a locally run, small business, restaurant in walking distance of the convention center for dinner without a reservation.  A two and a half hour wait to be seated, said the hostess.  That is an allegory for what AIPAC means for the District of Columbia.

Like many young professionals from DC or visiting it for AIPAC from out of town, or from overseas, I had an active night ahead of me.  My UberX app was going to get a whole lot of attention.

Numerous groups were able to leverage the network of having so many like-minded Jewish and pro-Israel supporters in town.  So beyond the restaurants having two and a half hour waits, groups were able to host spinoff events that supported AIPAC and Israel.

Ambassador Ron ProsorThe AIPAC Policy Conference Welcome Party was hosted by HaLev.  Their focus is on increasing the level of young leadership engagement in AIPAC’s Policy Conference, to foster a more proactive sense of commitment from young pros around the U.S.  They do this by offering scholarships to cover the registration fee for AIPAC.  And they fundraised over $5,000 by hosting over 500 young pros at Capitale.  Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor provided opening remarks.

“It was great to see so many pro-Israel activists together, supporting HaLev’s vision of bringing people to their first Policy Conference.  I know they will be impacted for the rest of their lives,” said Max Bluestein, a member of the HaLev Israel’s Executive Board.

Earlier in the night the Israel Bonds National New Leadership Board of Directors hosted a happy hour at miXX Lounge at the Renaissance Washington.  Young professional AIPAC supporters and Israel Bond investors networked, enjoyed an open bar, and ate some kosher friendly treats there.  Attendees came from as far west as California, as far east as New York, and as far south as Texas and Florida.  DC young pros were also well represented and Eva Davis won the unofficial selfie contest – where the best selfie taker at the HH was awarded a $100 Israel Bond to donate to any pro-Israel or Jewish non-profit.  Hadassah was lucky recipient.

Lisa Yochelson, an active Jewish community organizer in DC and first time attendee of an Israel Bonds New Leadership event, said “it was great to learn about the impact that Israel Bonds is having on educating local Jewish leaders, I’m excited to be a part of this organization’s important mission and support future initiatives.”

Other programs were also held.  Hotel rooms were booked.  My UberX drivers got some good tips.

Overall, AIPAC provided much more to DC than it directly gave to the 14,000 people at the convention center and the untold fortunes given to Israel in knowing that across the Atlantic, there are thousands of pro-Israel supporters willing to wait two and a half hours for a restaurant reservation for them (amongst make other commitments to show their support for The Jewish State of Israel).

Conversion Rate represents the views of Jason Langsner.  Langsner has been active in the DC Jewish community for nearly 10 years.  He formerly drove the digital strategy for B’nai B’rith International.  He is an active volunteer leader in a number of Jewish communal organizations at local and national levels.  He has staffed a Taglit-Birthright trip and is a former runner-up to GTJ’s Jewish Guy of the Year.