WASHINGTON - Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry yesterday tried to convey to a major Jewish audience, at the annual convention of the Anti-Defamation League, his strong personal commitment to Israel and its security. But instead of delivering a programmatic speech on the Middle East he decided to appeal to the emotions of the audience, and spoke at length about his first visit to the country, 20 years ago, when he traveled from north to south.

"We traveled everywhere, to all of the sites, to the north, to a kibbutz, Kiryat Shemona, which I will never forget, because it was near a school where only a few years earlier children had been murdered, innocently. And we went down into a shelter where children had to take refuge when the Katyusha rockets came across the border from Lebanon."

When the senator's delegation reached the south, he visited Uvda air force base where he asked permission from the local commanders for an overflight of the country. Although he had limited experience as a pilot, he was given a Fuga to fly and within a few minutes, when he wanted to look out over Aqaba from above, the pilot who was accompanying him said, "Senator, you better turn quickly because otherwise you'll be in Egyptian territory."

That story, which impressed the audience, was apparently meant to be the senator's response to the story President George Bush tells about how he was given a helicopter tour of Israel by then opposition MK Ariel Sharon.

Kerry went on with his personal tale. "Then I asked him if I could do a loop, a little aerobatics and see it all upside down - the perfect way to see the Middle East and Israel," he said winning a laugh from the audience.

The last stop on the tour Kerry told to the audience was Massada, where, after a lengthy discussion of the suicide by the survivors on the desert plateau-palace rather than be captured by the Romans, Kerry and the other members of the delegation found themselves, he said, on the ledge where air force cadets are sworn in.

"And we stood on the edge and we yelled `Am Yisrael chai!' And boom, across came the echo, the most eerie and unbelievable sound. And we sort of looked at each other and we felt as if we were hearing the souls of those who had died there, speaking to us."

The Democrat is trying to prove that he not only believes in the principle of protecting the special relationship with Israel but also feels that special relationship personally.

Along with the personal stories, he of course also emphasized that he would never pressure Israel, would not force it to negotiate with an unreliable partner, and would continue trying as president to advance the disengagement plan. "Whatever the future of this particular plan, if elected president I will guarantee you that I will work continuously, never disengaging as this administration did for so long, in a way that will advance that cause."