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Date: Sun 27 Feb 2000
Subject: The Jewish Week - Regions

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February 24 2000 / 25 Adar I 5660
Click And Be Counted
By: Jodi Bodner DuBow Jewish Week Correspondent

Pro-Israel political action committee created by two [Image]
Woodmere friends hoping to make a ‘virtual’ difference.
American Jewry is not loud enough. At least not to [Image]
the satisfaction of Marty Elsant and Moish
Berkowitz. And three years ago the two Woodmere residents [Image]
and longtime friends decided to do something about it.

Incorporating the communication medium of the future — the
Internet — with an instinctive need to support Israel the
two created VIPAC the Virtual Israel Political Action
Committee. Its purpose is to provide its nearly 500 members
with different pro-Israel letters each week that they can
then send to Washington urging more support for Israel’s
biblical historical and security claims in Judea Samaria
Gaza and the Golan Heights.

“The question you need to ask yourself” said Elsant a
46-year-old radiologist “is what have you done for Israel
this week? And if you’re like most people you didn’t
participate in a demonstration you didn’t phone or fax the
White House and you didn’t write to your senator or
congressman. But with Israel in so much danger and under so
much pressure how can you justify doing nothing?”

Feeling frustrated by the sense of apathy around them the
two created a Web site ( cobbled together a
mailing list of about 40 people and began to address weekly
the issues in the Middle East: the PLO terrorists the Golan
Heights jailed Iranian Jews security and whatever that
week’s headlines were. Originally they e-mailed the letters
directly to the members themselves but with the growth of
their mailing list they started using a listserve that
allows them to send out bulk e-mailst. While the weekly
letters are posted on the Web site its primary function is
to facilitate joining VIPAC as a member. “It’s better for
someone to get the letter directly to their e-mail address”
said Berkowitz an accountant by day. “There’s less to think
about that way.”

Tzvi Sprung has been a member since the beginning. “It’s a
good way to lobby the government without needing to do too
much of the work myself. And since I like to keep my hands
in the pot I feel like I’m doing something.”

Having received the letters the members are encouraged to
copy and ideally edit the letter to reflect their own
individual viewpoints. Then they’re supposed to sign it and
send it off as their own to the White House. VIPAC provides
a complete list of governmental e-mail and snail mail
addresses. “We encourage people to write their own letters
or at least edit ours” said Elsant “because we think that
many different letters instead of many copies of the same
letter will have a greater impact on the White House.”

“However” added Berkowitz “many copies of the same letter
will have more impact than sending nothing at all. So at
least members should send out a copy of our sample letter.”

Unfortunately while they see substantial growth in their
membership numbers and do receive letters from some of their
members discussing certain issues there’s no way to truly
ascertain how many letters are being sent to Washington and
what Washington does with them once received.

“But if you send an e-mail copy” said Berkowitz “you get
an immediate response from the White House acknowledging
receipt of your letter. And while it doesn’t necessarily
mean they read it if it goes in the pro-Israel box we’ve
accomplished something. That’s why we always write ‘support
Israel’ in the subject box of the e-mail form.”

“We know that the White House counts the number of e-mails
and faxes they receive” said VIPAC member Steven Eisenberg.
“We don’t know if they actually read them but if the
message gets across in the numbers it’s something.”

Both activists since their early days — Berkowitz gained his
Zionist fervor from B’nei Akiva growing up and Elsant could
always be found demonstrating for something or other during
his college days — the two men knew each other’s feelings to
be similar and created the idea.

Said Elsant: “I remember reading that Rabbi Abraham Joshua
Heschel once marched with Martin Luther King and said he
felt like he was praying with his feet. That he was involved
with a holy activity and it was a way of praying to God.
Marching for Israel and Soviet Jewry or doing anything
demonstrative is a way of praying to God too.”

VIPAC stresses that their job is not to criticize the
Israeli government or their policies. “Our job is to deal
with American government as it relates to Israel” said
Berkowitz. “Our goal is to get the U.S. government to
support Israel and not to pressure them. To let them decide
what they want to do. I’m here and my children are here.
We’re not the ones serving in the army. Who am I to tell
Israel what to do? My job is strictly to tell my country to
support Israel.”

Of course VIPAC has its critics. “Some people tell us” said
Elsant “that e-mail isn’t effective hand mail is so much
more so. Our response to them is to print it and then mail
it. We also get criticized for our small size. People
question what kind of an impact 500 members can have on
policy making. Of course they’re right but the answer to
that is if everyone who had that attitude joined our
numbers would swell substantially.”

Berkowitz disagrees. “Four or five hundred members is a big
deal” he said. “And even if only 50 percent are active
that’s still a lot and 200 pieces of pro-Israel mail every
week adds up.”

“At the very least” said Sprung “it indicates that people
are interested in what’s going on. And in keeping up with
policies. It’s certainly better than sitting back and doing

There are also people who might not necessarily agree with
Elsant’s or Berkowitz’s perspective of a given situation.
“But the beauty of VIPAC” insists Berkowitz “is that if
you disagree with a point or a paragraph in any given
letter you can change it before mailing it out.”

So what are their goals? More members perhaps? “This is not
about us our list or our own political views” said
Berkowitz. “We only hope to see the American government
stand behind Israel.”

Said Elsant: “Even if [President Bill] Clinton isn’t
listening I think God is. The idea that Israel has a chance
to survive in the Middle East without miracles is
impossible. If we do the best we can maybe God will do his
best and ensure Israel’s survival.”

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