Jews and conservatism: A growing relationship

The Tikvah Fund held its third annual Jewish Leadership Conference on Jews and Conservatism this past Sunday in New York City, and it was one of the best conferences I have attended in quite some time.  While the first conference two years ago was quite successful with approximately 400 in attendance, this year's sold-out symposium was moved to a large hotel ballroom space with over 1,000 joining.  For someone who lives in the blue bastions of hell, where Jews are being attacked on the streets of New York City almost daily and progressive values dominate policy and perspective, it was a treat to see the number of conservative Jews who flew in from all over North America to attend this compelling, informative, and important event.

The purpose of the conference was to "explore the power of conservative ideas to strengthen the Jewish people and to revitalize American civic life."  Given the assimilation and apathy of the vast majority of American Jews who would sooner vote for an anti-Israel Democrat than ever consider backing the current president, who has supported Israel more than any of his predecessors, let alone open their minds to understanding the way in which conservative values have helped them survive millennia, it seems that Tikvah has its hands full.  But it hit a home run on Sunday.

Here are a few highlights, although I recommend monitoring the Tikvah website as videos of the presentations are released:

The always brilliant Professor Ruth Wisse took to the stage to conduct an autopsy of "Socialism and the Jews."  Given the current slate of Democratic candidates running for president, it was quite a timely presentation.  As I listened, enthralled at the history of Jewish engagement in the socialist movement, I could only think how lucky her students were to have had the experience of sitting in a classroom listening to her wisdom and insights.  Sadly, while it did seem that Jews had moved beyond their experiment in social justice and class struggles, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders may spark a re-emergence of such policies.  But Wisse makes a compelling case for disregarding what has proven to fail, learning history's lessons, and moving in lockstep with Israeli ingenuity.

One of the highlights for me was the standing room–only break-out session on "The Trump Doctrine: America, Israel and the Middle East," featuring Michael Doran, one of the most insightful and knowledgeable thinkers on matters pertaining to foreign policy and in particular the Middle East.  What makes Doran such a treat to see is his matter-of-fact delivery that combines humor and gravity on issues of great importance to our national security and that of Israel.  Doran has taken a lot of heat for his position supporting Trump's withdrawal from Syria, but in less than thirty minutes, he had me convinced that it was the right choice for all parties involved.  Doran understands that the greatest threat to the region and America is not ISIS, but Iran and that our most important allies in fighting that enemy are Turkey and Saudi Arabia.  Agree or disagree with the Syria pull-out, Doran hit home the importance of "whacking" Iran over and over again as hard as we can.

One of the most moving presentations of the day was delivered by John Podhoretz as he spoke glowingly of his father, the esteemed Norman Podhoretz, best known for his role as editor-in-chief of Commentary Magazine and author of Why Are Jews Liberals?  (A decade ago, Norman inscribed my copy of his book with "To a comrade-in-arms. Keep up the good work" when he discovered that I write for AT.)  As John presented his father with Tikvah's Herzl Prize, he revealed interesting and personal stories about his father's accomplishments and struggles and that in January, they would be celebrating Norman's 90th birthday.  Conservatives are fortunate to have had Norman, an independent thinker uninhibited to take a moral, yet unpopular, position, at the helm as a thought leader and role model.

Victor Davis Hanson's twenty-minute presentation on "Israel and the Muscular Spirit of the West" addressed the connection among Western culture, ancient Greco-Roman foundations of democracy, and the rule of law.  His focal point compared the key differences between Europe on the one hand, the U.S. and Israel at the other extreme.  Addressing key points such as demography, faith, military readiness, economic strength, and immigration, VDH's comparison of a Europe in decline with an Israel thriving and a U.S. somewhere in the middle but heading south was an important reminder that if conservative principles are not reinstated, America will one day go the way of the Roman Empire.  His analysis of Israel and why it is thriving with a population not just willing, but enthusiastically on board with surviving was an illustrative example of the way that Jews who learn the lessons of history can and will succeed and endure.

Tikvah's Chairman and founder, Roger Hertog then interviewed Henry Kissinger. Kissinger is now 96 years old and while he spoke slowly and methodically, it was clear that his memory of historic events, of which he played a critical role, is completely intact. The topic, "Modern Statesmanship: Why Leaders Matter" focused on the Yom Kippur War and the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty signed six years later. Kissinger shared insights on the leadership qualities of Golda Meir, Anwar Sadat and Richard Nixon whom he believes was one of the greatest presidents in the history of the country. Hertog ended by reading a letter that Meir wrote to Sadat crediting Kissinger for his peace-making efforts that led to the historic agreement that still holds today.

The true highpoint of the day was the final presentation given by Rabbi Meir Soloveichik on "The Case for God."  Soloveichik's presentation was compelling, memorable, inspirational, and beautifully presented to a vast audience enthralled and wanting more. I simply cannot do justice to his words and will not attempt to summarize what he said other than to share that anyone listening will walk away with true faith in Hashem and an understanding of why Jews believe (or should believe) they are the Chosen People.

We are the sole and longest surviving people of the planet who have faced more adversity than most of us could ever begin to understand. That we are here today, in the land of Israel, is a miracle; but American Jews are losing their way and are beginning to revert to worshipping false idols. It is my hope that more and more of us will open our minds to listening to speakers like those who gathered in NYC this past Sunday and consider that conservative ideals are our means of survival, that without these ideals, Western civilization cannot and will not survive, and that it is our responsibility to do our part to ensure that we join together to face the growing threats to civil society both in the U.S. and Israel.

The Tikvah Fund held its third annual Jewish Leadership Conference on Jews and Conservatism this past Sunday in New York City, and it was one of the best conferences I have attended in quite some time.  While the first conference two years ago was quite successful with approximately 400 in attendance, this year's sold-out symposium was moved to a large hotel ballroom space with over 1,000 joining.  For someone who lives in the blue bastions of hell, where Jews are being attacked on the streets of New York City almost daily and progressive values dominate policy and perspective, it was a treat to see the number of conservative Jews who flew in from all over North America to attend this compelling, informative, and important event.

The purpose of the conference was to "explore the power of conservative ideas to strengthen the Jewish people and to revitalize American civic life."  Given the assimilation and apathy of the vast majority of American Jews who would sooner vote for an anti-Israel Democrat than ever consider backing the current president, who has supported Israel more than any of his predecessors, let alone open their minds to understanding the way in which conservative values have helped them survive millennia, it seems that Tikvah has its hands full.  But it hit a home run on Sunday.

Here are a few highlights, although I recommend monitoring the Tikvah website as videos of the presentations are released:

The always brilliant Professor Ruth Wisse took to the stage to conduct an autopsy of "Socialism and the Jews."  Given the current slate of Democratic candidates running for president, it was quite a timely presentation.  As I listened, enthralled at the history of Jewish engagement in the socialist movement, I could only think how lucky her students were to have had the experience of sitting in a classroom listening to her wisdom and insights.  Sadly, while it did seem that Jews had moved beyond their experiment in social justice and class struggles, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders may spark a re-emergence of such policies.  But Wisse makes a compelling case for disregarding what has proven to fail, learning history's lessons, and moving in lockstep with Israeli ingenuity.

One of the highlights for me was the standing room–only break-out session on "The Trump Doctrine: America, Israel and the Middle East," featuring Michael Doran, one of the most insightful and knowledgeable thinkers on matters pertaining to foreign policy and in particular the Middle East.  What makes Doran such a treat to see is his matter-of-fact delivery that combines humor and gravity on issues of great importance to our national security and that of Israel.  Doran has taken a lot of heat for his position supporting Trump's withdrawal from Syria, but in less than thirty minutes, he had me convinced that it was the right choice for all parties involved.  Doran understands that the greatest threat to the region and America is not ISIS, but Iran and that our most important allies in fighting that enemy are Turkey and Saudi Arabia.  Agree or disagree with the Syria pull-out, Doran hit home the importance of "whacking" Iran over and over again as hard as we can.

One of the most moving presentations of the day was delivered by John Podhoretz as he spoke glowingly of his father, the esteemed Norman Podhoretz, best known for his role as editor-in-chief of Commentary Magazine and author of Why Are Jews Liberals?  (A decade ago, Norman inscribed my copy of his book with "To a comrade-in-arms. Keep up the good work" when he discovered that I write for AT.)  As John presented his father with Tikvah's Herzl Prize, he revealed interesting and personal stories about his father's accomplishments and struggles and that in January, they would be celebrating Norman's 90th birthday.  Conservatives are fortunate to have had Norman, an independent thinker uninhibited to take a moral, yet unpopular, position, at the helm as a thought leader and role model.

Victor Davis Hanson's twenty-minute presentation on "Israel and the Muscular Spirit of the West" addressed the connection among Western culture, ancient Greco-Roman foundations of democracy, and the rule of law.  His focal point compared the key differences between Europe on the one hand, the U.S. and Israel at the other extreme.  Addressing key points such as demography, faith, military readiness, economic strength, and immigration, VDH's comparison of a Europe in decline with an Israel thriving and a U.S. somewhere in the middle but heading south was an important reminder that if conservative principles are not reinstated, America will one day go the way of the Roman Empire.  His analysis of Israel and why it is thriving with a population not just willing, but enthusiastically on board with surviving was an illustrative example of the way that Jews who learn the lessons of history can and will succeed and endure.

Tikvah's Chairman and founder, Roger Hertog then interviewed Henry Kissinger. Kissinger is now 96 years old and while he spoke slowly and methodically, it was clear that his memory of historic events, of which he played a critical role, is completely intact. The topic, "Modern Statesmanship: Why Leaders Matter" focused on the Yom Kippur War and the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty signed six years later. Kissinger shared insights on the leadership qualities of Golda Meir, Anwar Sadat and Richard Nixon whom he believes was one of the greatest presidents in the history of the country. Hertog ended by reading a letter that Meir wrote to Sadat crediting Kissinger for his peace-making efforts that led to the historic agreement that still holds today.

The true highpoint of the day was the final presentation given by Rabbi Meir Soloveichik on "The Case for God."  Soloveichik's presentation was compelling, memorable, inspirational, and beautifully presented to a vast audience enthralled and wanting more. I simply cannot do justice to his words and will not attempt to summarize what he said other than to share that anyone listening will walk away with true faith in Hashem and an understanding of why Jews believe (or should believe) they are the Chosen People.

We are the sole and longest surviving people of the planet who have faced more adversity than most of us could ever begin to understand. That we are here today, in the land of Israel, is a miracle; but American Jews are losing their way and are beginning to revert to worshipping false idols. It is my hope that more and more of us will open our minds to listening to speakers like those who gathered in NYC this past Sunday and consider that conservative ideals are our means of survival, that without these ideals, Western civilization cannot and will not survive, and that it is our responsibility to do our part to ensure that we join together to face the growing threats to civil society both in the U.S. and Israel.