Assembly Speaker John Perez


Good evening. I'm so honored to join you and I want to thank you for your commitment to AIPAC and the state of Israel.

Events such as these offer us a powerful opportunity to rededicate and reaffirm our steadfast support for the security and prosperity of the people of Eretz Israel, to recognize that Israel represents the culmination of centuries of struggle and hardship, certainly; but more importantly, the realization of the hopes and aspirations of the Jewish people across generations and around the world.

And in an era where Israel faces uncertainty on every front, where a rapidly-changing world brings with it ever-present potential for danger, AIPAC's mission takes on a profound significance. We know that our support does not begin or end with this conference. It is something we must manifest in our daily lives.

The district I'm proud to represent has many such reminders of that commitment. In fact, the Breed Street Shul, which at one point was the largest synagogue on the West Coast, is located in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles, in the heart of my district.

For nearly a century, the shul has stood as a tradition and a connection to the faith and traditions of the diaspora who settled in California seeking the opportunities that are the birthright of every Californian. And in 1903, my mother's father came to California seeking those same opportunities and my mother grew up in the shadow of the shul.

She developed a personal and powerful connection to the Jewish community in her neighborhood. It was a close-knit community where everyone looked out for everyone else. And it's something that she would carry with her throughout her life as a mother, not just to me and my siblings, but to every person in my community.

Now, if you knew my mother you'd know that she had a saying for everything, often in English, occasionally in Spanish. And as a little boy, when I thought I was being helpful around the house, she'd use one of her favorite sayings: Zolst helfen vi a toiten bankes [Yiddish to English translation: It's completely useless.]

The shul still stands today and it's a reminder of the shared history of our communities. And though it has stood vacant for many years, my mother would be amazed to know that even today it is being rebuilt as a center for education, culture and fellowship, not only for Latinos but for all members of our community. She would be so proud to know that the shul, which was such an important part of the life of her community, will continue to reflect the traditions of service, community and of pride that had been faithfully adhered to for more than five millennia by Jewish people: L'Dor VaDor [Hebrew to English translation: From generation to generation.]

Those traditions, that spirit of community and the obligation to serve the community appeal to be deeply. It's that spirit that called me to public service. And it's that reason that I placed my hand on the tanach to swear my oath of office as an assembly member and ultimately a speaker. That sense of community is so powerful and it's so vividly displayed on the faces across this room.

I've been honored to visit Israel, as so many of you have, and to visit the Western Wall and see the repository of generations of hopes and prayers. And in my travels to places like Ashkelon and Sderot, I've met with the families who live so perilously close to danger and yet whose faith in a brighter future remains as strong as the faith of the Jews who first fled bondage to wander the Sinai in search of the land of milk and honey.

When I visit Israel I'm reminded of Psalm 126, Shir Hama'alot, b'shuv hachem et shivat tziyon hayinu k'chol'mim [Hebrew transliteration]—when God returned us to Zion, we were like a people in a dream.

When I think of Israel, I don't think in terms of allies or trading partners; I think of men and women from every background and from all walks of life who have come together to create something truly unique and special. Not just a haven; not just a refuge, but a home, a fountainhead for progress in a deeply-troubled region of the world; a place where people remind us a daily basis of Psalm 120: I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.

I see a nation that embodies a kindred spirit with California and with the United States. And as someone who spent my life fighting for working families, I know that Israel is a land where that same spirit of social justice is given fervent expression. As someone who sees LGBT pride parades as a powerful display of community and acceptance, I'm moved to tears to know that Israel is the only place in the Middle East where that spirit flourishes, where everyone, regardless of their gender, regardless of their sexual orientation is treated equally as defenders of the state and as proud citizens.

And as a proud progressive, I know that Israel is a land of boundless progress, whose commitment to education and empowerment has yielded unparalleled advances in technologies that bring relief to the suffering, health to the sick and opportunities for all; where the poorest and most vulnerable are taken care of by people who respect and reaffirm the spirit of tikkun olam [Hebrew translation: healing the world]. The obligation of us to heal the world, to do acts of loving kindness, and be just and charitable.

I may not be Jewish, but Judaism speaks to me. I may not be Israeli, but Israel's endurance through the decades of war and tribulation speaks to my belief and hope for the future and justice for every person in the world. What I am—thank you.

What I am is a proud supporter of Israel who values the contribution that the Jewish state has made to the life of the world, to the people of California, and certainly to the hopes and aspirations of Jews and non-Jews alike around the world; aspirations of freedom, prosperity and respect. That commitment is powerful and unshakable and it's why so many people from every part of the great tapestry of American life stand with us in solidarity and determination.

We know that Israel has faced many challenges since the yishuv secured independence. And we know that Israel continues to face many challenges today. But it is through our faith in and support of Israel that each of us can be confident that Israel will strive and grow ever-stronger. Thank you.