‘It’s so important just to show up’
Norpac resumes in-person advocacy mission to Washington
There’s nothing like advocating in person.
There’s little that can replace the power of looking directly at someone as you make the arguments that push your cause; logic and passion can come together in ways that they cannot on the phone, or in writing, or over Zoom.
That’s why members of Norpac, the pro-Israel advocacy group, were glad to be able to resume their annual in-person trip to Washington. Once they got there, the group — about 600 strong — met with members of the Senate and the House of Representatives to explain why they believe that support for Israel is both morally necessary and vitally important to the United States as well as to the Jewish state.
Norpac, which is based in Bergen County and draws members from across New Jersey and New York to its annual advocacy mission, routinely took a thousand or so members to Washington every year. The pandemic canceled the trip in 2020; in 2021 and 2022 members lobbied over Zoom.
This year, they were back in person, to still surprisingly empty buildings and a very warm reception, the group’s founder and president, Dr. Ben Chouake of Englewood, reported.
Almost everyone in Norpac is a volunteer; the group has just one full-time employee.
The mission is an organizational tour de force. It starts with a plenary session, which includes short talks from many elected officials as well as Norpac’s leaders. This year, the speakers, always a bipartisan batch, included the about-to-retire Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), Senator Jim Lankford (R-Oklahoma), and members of Congress Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J. Dist. 5) and Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), who represents the South Bronx.
There could have been more speakers, but “we had only one hour for the plenary session and we filled up pretty quickly,” Avi Schranz, Norpac’s executive director, said.
After the plenary, every year the advocates break into groups of four or five and then they go and lobby. “We had about 300 meetings in all,” Dr. Chouake said.
“We meet with everybody,” he continued. “With Democrats and Republicans. It’s quite nice.”
The Norpac advocates go into the meetings prepared with talking points; the passion they bring is their own, but their arguments are buttressed by the logic and analytics of Norpac’s writers, Allan Friedman and Dr. Laurie Baumel, both of Teaneck.
“We have brilliant people writing those talking points,” Dr. Chouake said. “And they’re volunteers! We probably have the best written talking points in the country. We could never afford to pay anyone what these people are doing for free.”
“The talking points are fairly concise,” he continued. “They’re about foreign aid, missile defense, the Iron Beam.” The Iron Dome? “No, the Iron Beam. The Iron Dome defends against missiles; the Iron Beam, which is newer, defends against lasers. That is the future.”
What about the unrest in Israel now? If they’re asked, they would say, as they firmly believe, “that this is democracy in action,” Dr. Chouake said. “It is impressive. People come out and voice their opinions. Nobody is fighting, not with each other, not with the police. Nobody is shooting.
“This is what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to voice your opinion. This is a very good example of how democracy is supposed to work.
“You have demonstrations on both sides, and there is no violence. That’s something to be proud of.”
Norpac members were able to visit “close to 90 percent of the Senate, and a fair percentage of the House,” Dr. Chouake said.
One of his visits was to Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate majority leader. “He was running late, we talked to the staff, and we were ready to go on to the next meeting,” Dr. Chouake said. “And his legislative director said, ‘No, you can’t leave! The senator really wants to meet with you personally.’”
So they waited, Senator Schumer joined them, and “we went over a lot of the issues — he was very familiar with them. He is so smart! He’s probably one of the smartest people in the country. And he’s not only brilliant, he’s one of the hardest-working people you ever will meet. His staff says that they can’t keep up with him, and they’re like 30, 40 years younger than he is.
“He stayed with us for a fairly long time. He was really glad to see us.”
Senator Schumer said something to the Norpac group in his office that a lot of other Norpac members also reported being told, Dr. Chouake said. “They say how proud they are to see how much we care about the issues. They can tell because we actually make the effort.
“The issues always are important” — and here Dr. Chouake meant not supporting Israel in general, but the specific topics in the talking points — “but always, and this year especially, the most important thing was showing up.
“It’s so important just to show up.”
This year, as every year, there was a wide age range among the Norpac advocates. “The youngest is 12, and the oldest is a Holocaust survivor from Brooklyn,” Dr. Chouake said.
The group is nonpartisan, he added. “And everyone gets along. It’s really nice.”