I am still processing the many emotions I felt during last week’s March For Israel. It was truly an incredible and historic day, one that I imagine I will never forget. It may take some time, for me at least, to really understand what this day meant, but I want to record my thoughts right now while they are fresh in my mind. Here are 10 reflections I had about the March For Israel. And as we say in the Passover Seder, for each one of these reasons alone it would have been enough to come together – Dayeinu!
1) Jewish Pride vs. Fear
The last 40 days have been a shock to the Jewish People. It’s not the 1st time Israel has been at war or that Antisemitism has reared its ugly head. But the sheer brutality of the attack of October 7th, and the widespread display of Anti-Semitism worldwide, including right here in America on college campuses and beyond, are things many of us never thought we would see in our lifetime. We read about pogroms in the history books. We heard about the Holocaust from survivors (indeed, this generation is the last one that will hear that first hand testimony from Holocaust survivors). But now we are seeing it with our own eyes.
People are questioning how loudly to broadcast their Jewish identity in light of these threats. Some are removing or hiding the Mezuzah on their door, the Kippah on their head, the Star of David around their neck, or their name on their Uber App. As Chanukah approaches, the age-old question, already discussed in the Talmud (Shabbat 21b), will arise once again: do we light the candles outside in order to publicize the miracle or keep them inside because of danger?
So the first major takeaway for me from the March for Israel was the idea that Jews came together, in the hundreds of thousands, to loudly and proudly declare, “We are Jewish! We are proud of our heritage! We are part of a great Nation! And we are not alone” Am Yisrael Chai!
2) Anti-Semitism in America
On a related note, this moment in time is actually making many American Jews question, perhaps for the first time seriously, our safety in this country. We learned about German Jews who didn’t leave before it was too late, and when we asked our teachers why they didn’t leave we were told that they never imagined in their wildest imagination that something like the Holocaust could actually happen. They believed that a modern civilized society would ultimately do the right thing. Whether or not that answer was satisfactory, most of us did not then take the next step to wonder, could the Holocaust ever happen in America? Or could we one day be exiled like they were from Spain, England, France, and so many other countries over our history?
On the bus ride to the rally I overheard someone on the phone with her elderly mother, reassuring her that it was safe to attend this rally, but at the same time saying “it may be time for us to leave.” I have heard of an increase in Jews signing up for gun lessons or self-defense classes. If tragedies like the attacks on Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh or Poway synagogue in San Diego did not serve as the wakeup call, perhaps this moment will. Freedom and Civil Rights cannot be taken for granted. They must be reinforced and taught in every generation. As we recite each year in the Passover Seder:
וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ וְלָנוּ. שֶׁלֹּא אֶחָד בִּלְבָד עָמַד עָלֵינוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנוּ, אֶלָּא שֶׁבְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר עוֹמְדִים עָלֵינוּ לְכַלוֹתֵנוּ, וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַצִּילֵנוּ מִיָּדָם
And it is this that has stood for our ancestors and for us; since it is not only one person or nation that has stood against us to destroy us, but rather in each generation they stand against us to destroy us, but the Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hand.
3) American Support For Israel
It was amazing to see so many American flags and to hear chants of “USA! USA!” at the rally. American Jews recognize how fortunate we are to live in a country that is welcoming to Jews and that supports Israel so strongly. It is hard to imagine how different things would be without US support. And this support cuts across partisan lines. At the rally we heard from leaders of both parties, who rarely agree on anything. We sometimes think to ourselves, “does my vote really matter? Or does it really make a difference if I show up to a rally or email my representative in congress?” The answer is resoundingly, YES! 290,000 people showing up in our nation’s capitol makes a much bigger statement than 50,000. We are each entitled to our political views. But we must never take for granted the right and the responsibility we enjoy as American citizens to exercise our civic rights and to vote. And we must express gratitude to our elected officials who sign bills for nonprofit security or aid to Israel.
When I was young they would ask us in camp, “Do you consider yourself an American Jew or a Jewish American?” That question is profound and has deep implications. Jewish history has taught us that we are not always welcome, even when we try to fit in. Let us celebrate our Jewish identity and feel grateful to live in a country that allows us to do so freely and equally.
4) Solidarity With Israel
This past year saw tremendous division and discord in Israel in the protests of proposed Judicial reform. Tens of thousands of Israelis protested in the streets, and many IDF reservists threatened not to show up to Miluim (reserve duty). Of course, when under attack, divisions are put aside and the country has rallied together to focus on rescuing the hostages and making sure the threat of an attack like this can never happen again. Once the war is over, Israel will have to take a hard look at how this happened and how to bring the country together going forward.
As far as American Jews’ relationship to Israel, this rally was a powerful reminder of the deep connection to Israel and love for its people that so many American Jews feel, even those who don’t always agree with all the political decisions its government makes.
It’s true that the rally was a mixture of three causes: returning the hostages, defeating Hamas, and combating Anti-Semitism. But maybe that’s the point. While Israel welcomes people of all faiths, it is the homeland of the Jewish People, the land of our ancestors, and the only safe haven for Jews in the world. I have many family members and friends who live in Israel, and I think that, even in today’s digital world, it can feel isolating at times thinking that the United Nations and so many countries do not support them. Standing on the National Mall in Washington, I was so proud that so many of us came to send a message of Chizuk, solidarity and support to our brothers and sisters in Israel. We are with you! You are not alone. Your hostages are our family as well. Your chayalim are defending our home as well. We will do our part from a distance, praying, doing good deeds, donating funds, lobbying congress, etc… And, B’ezrat Hashem, we will come soon.
Many have commented on how peaceful and respectful the rally was, especially for such a huge crowd. No one stormed the capitol. There were no assaults or arrests. Nothing was lit on fire. People listened respectfully without heckling the speakers. They waved Israeli and American flags. They sang songs of peace. Honestly, there can be more pushing at a Shabbat morning Kiddush than there was at a gathering of almost 300,000. And on the way out of the rally, thousands thanked the police officers who were there to keep the peace. One viral post quoted a police officer who was asked how he found the crowd. He answered, “I got a career’s worth of thank you’s in one shift today.”
As angry as many of us are at the brutality of the attack on 10/7 and the hypocrisy of those who call for a ceasefire but not for the release of the hostages, the feel of this day was not one of anger, but of hope. Many speakers expressed remorse for innocent victims on both sides of the conflict. And in general, the conversations I have been having over the last few weeks with people tend to focus on how we can rescue our hostages and eliminate Hamas while minimizing civilian casualties as much as possible. I know there are many who say Israel should be doing more to protect human lives. I think they are in an impossible situation, that they did not create, and that they are doing their best to protect the innocent. So, while we pray for the protection of the IDF soldiers trying to remove a terrorist threat from their front door, there is also a feeling of compassion and hope for those Gazans who wish to live side by side in peace.
Some of my favorite moments from the rally were the ones in which hundreds of thousands of Jews came together in prayer. We sang the Star Spangled Banner and HaTikvah together. We sang Acheinu with the Maccabeats and Tefilla L’Chayalim (prayer for the soldiers). Ishay Ribo led us, not only in many of his beautiful songs, but in reciting responsively a chapter of Tehillim (Psalms). Several speakers referenced “The One Above,” and gave blessings of peace to which the crowd answered “Amen.” I was especially touched when Ishay Ribo shared that today was Rosh Chodesh Kislev, the month of Chanukah, when we celebrate light conquering the darkness. This was not a religious rally. There were no Rabbis who spoke. But it felt spiritual. It felt to me like a taste of what it could feel like when Mashiach brings us all together.
7) Seeing Ourselves In The Bigger Picture
Standing in the crowd, I couldn’t even see the stage. The big screens made us all feel like we were right there. But the crowd was so huge. I was shocked that I didn’t even see friends from other cities who had come in for the March. Of course, some found ways to stand out in the crowd. But overall, we all meshed together into one mass of humanity.
Below you will see one photo of my view from where I stood and another looking down from above. This got me thinking about the fact that we each go through life and see the world around us from our own vantage point with our unique perspective. But we have to remember that others are looking at things from other angles. And that The Almighty sees the entire picture all at once. Being part of something bigger than ourselves not only makes us feel less alone and more connected, but also helps us remember that together we can accomplish amazing things.
This dichotomy between being in the crowd and zooming out to see the bigger picture also got me thinking about the difference between being a spectator vs. a participant. Of course, there were many who were unable to attend the rally for many legitimate reasons. I especially am thinking of the many Jewish educators who wanted to attend the rally but instead showed up to school to continue educating the next generation of proud Jews. It is great that another 250,000 reportedly viewed the livestream of the March online. For all of us a day like this is a reminder that we can go through life watching the news, reacting to social media posts, and sharing our opinions in our social bubbles. Or we can be part of history. For some, maybe that means making Aliyah. For others, maybe it means actually doing something to help from a distance. This 75th anniversary of Israel’s creation is a moment when we are reminded that it is up to us to ensure the continued survival and growth of our Nation. We each have to play our role.
Like Mordechai says to Esther (Esther 4:14), “if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish.” Indeed, many synagogues across the country encouraged those who were able to fast the day before the March, in the spirit of Esther who fasted before approaching Achashverosh (Esther 4:16). This march was a reminder that we all play a role in the story of the Jewish People.
8) Dor L’Dor
People of all ages attended this rally. There were young children and babies. There were many thousands of teens. There were senior citizens and everything in between. In addition, this rally was a moment of Mesorah, of transmission. It felt like one generation lighting the torch of the next, inspiring them to continue lighting the flame forever.
One speaker said something that got me emotional. She said that she has been thinking about the chain of Jewish history that started from Avraham and continues all the way to her four year old daughter. Suddenly I pictured millions of Jews from the past. The ones who escaped from Egypt and received the Torah at Sinai. The ones that built the Land of Israel and the two Temples. The Ten Lost Tribes who were exiled and lost to history. The millions who kept Judaism alive in unwelcome times and places. The ones who were killed Al Kiddush Hashem for being Jewish. The 6 million murdered in the Holocaust. The ones who somehow picked themselves off the mat and built Medinat Yisrael. Against all odds we are still here after all we have been through. As Ishai Ribo kept on chanting and having the crowd repeat, we are Am HaNetzach – the eternal Nation.
9) Jewish Education
I know this is a long post, but I don’t apologize. There was so much meaning to this day and I need to express it in words so that I never forget and so that my grandchildren will one day understand what this moment in time meant.
The 9th Dayeinu to me from the March For Israel is the incredible moment of Chinuch, Jewish Education, that this day was. As fortunate as we are to live in a country like America that allows us religious freedom and equality, in some ways perhaps we have become too comfortable in this land. The statistics of Assimilation are indisputable. And even the measures of young people’s affiliation and connection to Israel have suffered. But this moment in history is a reminder of how crucial Jewish education is to ensuring our survival.
Over 12,000 students in Jewish Day Schools came to this march with their schools. They flew and drove from all over the country. Because their teachers and parents understood that a day like this had the power to do more to build their Jewish identity, pride, and values than almost anything else. Do you think any young person who attended this March will ever forget the feeling of Peoplehood, of mutual connection with Jews of all types, of the importance of speaking out against injustice and standing up for your beliefs?
Over the last few weeks I have heard anecdotally of Jewish students in public schools whose families are strongly considering enrolling them in Jewish Day Schools. Not only because they want to protect them from Anti-Semitism and discrimination. But because they realize that Jewish identity, pride, and values cannot be assumed. They must be inculcated. This does not mean retreating from society. It means building the strongest foundation possible to ensure Jewish continuity for our families and our People. And even if a Jewish child is not educated in a Jewish Day School, their Jewish education must be planned for intentionally, rather than passively absorbed. Jewish education starts at home. And the more our children see their parents celebrating their heritage, living their Jewish values, studying their Jewish texts, engaging in their Jewish practice, celebrating Shabbat, and participating in synagogue, the more they will feel their own authentic connection to their faith and pass it on to their children.
10) Jewish Unity
And now, for the last, and to me most important, Dayeinu of the day: Achdut (Jewish Unity).
People traveled from all over the United States for this rally. They booked flights and trains and buses on very short notice, closed school or left work, and came to Washington to stand up for what they believed in. And they expressed their love, hope, Ahavat Yisrael, and Jewish pride in so many ways. I kept thinking about the Jewish People camped around Mt. Sinai. Each tribe had their own character and style. But they came together as One Nation. That is what the Rally For Israel felt like.
There were so many heartwarming signs at the rally, including pictures of the hostages, prayers for the IDF, thanks to America, and solidarity with Israel. There were also many humorous signs, including several that said “I’m single.” How great would that be if someone found their bashert at a rally of 300,000 Jews?
But what was so powerful was the diversity of people all gathered together. You know what didn’t matter on this day? Where you came from, what your political or religious affiliation was, the color of your skin, your gender, your socio-economic status, your Jewish education. All that mattered is that we all wanted to be together.
Ishai Ribo told the crowd, “we have one tafkid (job): to always safeguard this sense of B’Yachad (togetherness).
We live in a society that is so fragmented. We no longer have the ability or even the desire to understand different perspectives than our own. Anyone who thinks differently is an opponent or enemy. Even within the Jewish People, we sometimes forget that there is more that unites us than divides us. We forget that Unity is the most important part of CommUNITY.
Dayeinu to this day just for the very fact of the entire spectrum of the Jewish community coming together. It shouldn’t take Anti-Semitism or war to do so. But I pray from my soul that when we all come through this dark time we will look back on a year of protests and division and remember that we are much stronger together. We don’t have to agree on everything. But we still have to feel connected to each other.
Yehi Ratzon, may it be God’s will:
- That our hostages come home safely soon
- That our IDF soldiers are protected
- That the threat from Hamas is removed permanently
- That peace can be restored to people of good faith on both sides of the border
- That the world says no to Anti-Semitism and stands with the Jewish People
- That we use this time to remember what a gift it is to be Jewish
- That we lean in to our Jewish identities, values, and education
- And that we come together more than ever before as a People