My People and My Country
For Carol Aminoff, Israel is her passion.
What's impressive about Carol Aminoff is not all the prominent positions she's held -- and she has held many.
Don't believe me? National speaker and mission leader for the UJA, advisor and campaign aide to U.S. Senator Henry (Scoop) Jackson, founding president of the Women's Alliance for Israel, vice-chairwoman for AIPAC Los Angeles, senior advisor to Dianne Feinstein, Middle East policy advisor to Senator George Mitchell, international Director of Development for Steven Spielberg's "Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation," senior consultant to the Venice Family Clinic, the largest free clinic in America. Her most recent roles include advisor to Senator Joseph Lieberman, co-chairwoman of the National Committee on Latino/Jewish Cooperation, consultant to Tel Aviv University for special projects, founder of AIPAC Entertainment and Business Leadership group and senior consultant for AIPAC.
What's impressive about Carol Aminoff isn't all the famous and powerful people she knows. It's not even her list of accomplishments. What's striking about Carol Aminoff is her drive and single-minded focus. It's her passion, devotion, and total commitment to Israel. Carol is someone who lives, breathes and sleeps (if she ever does) Israel and the Jewish people. For Carol, Israel's survival hangs in the balance. Forget about small talk. Time is too precious for that. Since she was a small child, Carol Aminoff has worked tirelessly on behalf of her people. This is her story.
MY CHILDHOOD AND MY JEWISH ROOTS
I grew up in Portland, Oregon -- not the world's largest Jewish community but a wonderful one. My grandparents had settled in Hood River, Oregon on the outskirts of an Indian Reservation where they were dry goods salespeople. They had five children, and when it was time for my uncle, the eldest, to be bar mitzvahed, they decided they needed to move to the big City of Portland, Oregon. Amazingly enough, they kept kosher in Hood River. I'm not sure how often the wagons brought them meat, but they kept kosher.
There wasn't any question in any of their children's minds that they were Jewish; their whole life was spent within the Jewish community. But this was the first generation to come to America and there was a desperate longing to see that your children had the best advantages and opportunities that you could have in America. That began with speaking English and going as far up in the school system as you could go. One of the proudest days of my grandmother's life was becoming an American citizen. For my father, it was being the first member of his family to go to college.
All four of my grandparents were very observant. My entire family congregated at my grandmother's on Friday nights, no exceptions. I was the first person in my family who went away to college.
THE HOLOCAUST AND THE NEED FOR A HOMELAND
"Where were you? Why didn't you do more?" That was the worst insult that I could say to anyone.
My involvement with Israel began early as well. I was a tiny child during the Holocaust. When I became aware that Jewish children were being killed, the entire map of my life was laid out for me. Jewish children were at risk and I was a Jewish child. Years later, I remember very clearly the rabbi of my parent's shul on the day that Israel became a state, standing in front of the congregation and being speechless, just speechless. He raised his hands above his head and he said, "We have a home." From the time that I became aware that Jewish children were in danger, these were the first words I heard that made me feel safe. Home was Israel. From that point on, anything that I have ever done in my life, which is so small compared to so many people, has been to ensure that Israel will be there and will be strong; that it will be the life insurance policy of the Jews of the world.
I've never collected myself emotionally from these feelings of my childhood. In fact, last week Exodus was on television and I just sobbed from beginning to end because I think about the price that we had to pay to have our homeland. If I could wish anything for future generations of Jews, it would be that all Jews would understand how precious Israel is and that it has to be protected no matter what. I wish they would understand that tiny dot on the map is both our hope and our haven.
My mother would say, "Oh, Carol is on her soapbox again." I would give lectures to people about how important Israel is and it didn't matter to me if they were my age or my parents' age.
When I really lost my temper, probably the worst thing I ever said to my parents -- who did help and did care -- was, "Where were you? Why didn't you do more?" That was the worst insult that I could say to anyone.
A NEED TO HELP
|Carol Aminoff with Senator Joe Leiberman|
I desperately wanted to help. So I became involved in youth groups and held leadership positions. In college I became very involved in anything related to Israel. Immediately after college, I married and lived in Seattle. I had my older children and I participated, almost from the very beginning in Jewish Federation and speaking around the country on behalf of Israel. Jewish organizations in America tend to grab hold of anyone who's willing to work! Through the speaking, I came into contact with Jews from all over the country who shared my passion.
My goal was fundraising, always fundraising -- and education. I raised money for UJA for many years. Barbie Weinberg, who I admire tremendously, became my role model. She was deeply involved in UJA at a national level which is how we met.
Barbie and her husband, Larry, are extraordinary, unbelievable people. If they didn't exist, God would have invented them because single-handedly they have done remarkable things, both in UJA and in AIPAC when Larry became the founder of AIPAC here in Los Angeles. He is the National Chairman Emeritus of AIPAC. Barbie later became the founder of the Washington Institute, which has now become the premier think tank in our country for Israel-related matters.
All the Jewish organizations in the world can't do for Israel in 10 years what the Congress of the United States can do in one session.
I was living in Seattle, serving on the national board of UJA Women's Division and meeting people like Barbie at retreats around the country. One day Barbie came to Seattle at my request to speak at a large donors meeting. While driving to the event, casually talking, Barbie said something to me that changed my life.
"Do you know that all the Jewish organizations in the world can work 24 hours a day forever and still can't do for Israel in 10 years what the Congress of the United States can do in one session?"
It was like a light bulb went off in my head and I understood immediately and very instinctively, that's where the power is, that's where the help for Israel is.
So through the Jewish Federation I asked to be introduced to one of our Senators, Henry M. (Scoop) Jackson, who was an important leader in the Senate. He was a wonderful man and a good friend of Israel. I became an adviser to him. This was during the beginning days of political fundraising in the Jewish community, and the education of the community on the importance of a United States Senator who had a vote on foreign policy and how that vote could benefit Israel.
The next step was realizing that Senators who come from states like Montana or South Dakota, who have virtually no Jewish constituents, have a vote as powerful as a Senator from New York or California or Illinois, on issues that affect Israel.
So you have to educate those people. You have to meet them, get to know them. If they're friends of Israel, you have to help them get elected and then you have to help them stay there. Politics with regard to Israel does not know geographic borders within the United States of America. Everyone is, or has the potential to be, our Senator or our Congressperson. You have no idea how many people at every step along the way have the power to make a stand that either helps or does ultimate harm to Israel.
I've been so lucky in my life to meet people who I am absolutely convinced God placed where they are. I was the International Director of Development of Steven Spielberg's "Survivors Of The Shoah Foundation." I believed then and I believe now that there was only one man on the face of this globe who could have taken on the responsibility of preserving the testimonies of the fading generation of Holocaust survivors and say, "Yes, I will step up to the plate. I'll do it." A person who has the intelligence, the heart, the ability, the contacts, the outreach and the know-how. That man is Steven Spielberg. Because God blessed us with Steven, we now have a vast, irrefutable and permanent archive of Holocaust survivor testimonies.
Working with Steven Spielberg on the "Survivors Of The Shoah Foundation" was the greatest thing I've done in my life.
I was privileged to do that project with Steven and it was the greatest thing I've done in my life. In many ways it helped ease the pain I have always felt for all of the children who died in the Holocaust.
Schindler's List had recently come out when we met about this project. I said to Steven, "But for the luck of geography, that little girl in the red coat would have been me. How can I help you?" We had such an indescribable experience bringing people into this project, even as the clock was ticking away the lives of so many of the survivors. No one can make up for those lost lives, but one man, Steven Spielberg, ensured that those lives will be remembered with truth and dignity. Steven's commitment to Jewish survival has also resulted in a new and very significant gift to the people of Israel during the present crisis.
My beliefs have given my life meaning. I can't imagine what my life would have been if I had never felt compelled to do the things that I've done in support of Israel and in support of the Jewish people. I can't imagine.
People depend upon you to do your part and some of those people haven't even been born yet. If you don't do what you're supposed to do in your life, future generations will pay the price.
I look at my grandchildren and I feel that I can look these beautiful little Jewish faces in the eye because I know the things I do are small, but they make a difference. They make a difference and the beneficiaries of that difference are my grandchildren and their children's children.
At AIPAC we are reaching out to a new generation of Jews who haven't had an opportunity to express their support for Israel in ways that were meaningful to them.
We are bringing young professionals into contact with speakers and leaders and politicians who help them see that they have a role to play in the future of the American Jewish community and of Israel. The current crisis in Israel has been a real wake-up call for the American Jewish community because people who didn't realize how deeply they cared for or how frightened they were for Israel now understand it.
There is a hunger in young people to know more about our heritage and what Israel means to us.
For a lot of these young people, their Jewish awakening through Aish HaTorah has been an overwhelming experience for them and as they've come to know themselves as Jews, I think that they have come to understand their personal responsibility in terms of the survival of Israel. How that responsibility is expressed is an individual choice. I am seeing many who want to express that through Jewish political action.
You ask me if I envision doing this job indefinitely. To me it is not a job; it is who I am and what I do. I see this as the most important way to reach the goal that I have been working towards my whole life. I don't actually expect to reach the goal, but I expect to move myself forward a little more in whatever time I have to do that. I am convinced that if you present a case to young people for Jewish involvement, whether it's religiously, politically or culturally, there is a hunger for that. There is a hunger to know more about our heritage and what Israel means to us. Through educational programming, through meetings with politicians and professors, we are showing hundreds of young professionals the importance of Israel and the crucial role they can play. There's a hunger for direction, there's a hunger for a sense of belonging. Addressing that hunger within young people is something I love to do. I love to show young people that they can make a difference and that the future of the state of Israel and the Jewish people depends on them.