On Monday afternoon, hundreds of Jews from the New York and New Jersey area took to the streets to pray for the release of Gil-Ad Sha’ar (16), Eyal Yifrach (19), and Naftali Frankel (16), the Yeshiva students who were abducted by terrorists late Thursday night from a hitchhiking point in Gush Etzion. These Tri-State residents simply could not continue to sit on their hands and allow the episode to unfold without contributing in some way, without doing something proactive to help reunite these innocent young boys with their families.
The prayer gathering and rally, organized and led by Jewish activism giant Rabbi Avi Weiss, took place outside the Israeli Consulate on the east side of Manhattan. Though the crowd of concerned individuals was a true cross section of the greater Jewish community – varied by background, religious observance, and stage of life – their message was united and clear: this is a matter of life and death, and every elected official must stand in solidarity with Israel on this issue, no matter what they think of Israel otherwise.
Several major news organizations, including CNN, CBS and FOX News, were on the scene to capture the moment – great rabbinic leaders, Jewish activists, high school students, and Israeli soldiers all gathered together, raising their voices in unison to advocate on behalf of fellow Jews…simply because they are fellow Jews.
I had the great privilege of attending the rally with my children – my 21 year-old and an assortment of teenagers. As we made our way toward the Israeli Consulate, before the lively crowd came into view, I regaled my kids with tales of the “old time rally,” the most powerful social advocacy tool I had ever known.
In 2014, much (if not most) of our advocacy occurs online. Though online petitions and “hashtag activism” have the power to rally like-minded individuals around the world and bring a particular issue into focus, they do have their limitations. For example, we discussed how the Twitter hashtag created for Gil-Ad, Eyal, and Naftali (#BringBackOurBoys) had been co-opted by Palestinian Twitter users and repurposed as an anti-IDF propaganda tool.
Though “pounding the pavement” might not garner immediate global reach, it is the truest, most human form of social action. At a rally, we put everything on the line, displaying our rawest emotions and deepest feelings to assign human faces to the most complicated issues.
Over the years, I have attended quite a number of rallies. We discussed the unique elements of each one and how much impact (I believe) they really had on public opinion, governmental policy, and history. We touched on the numerous rallies for Soviet Jewry and the unforgettable rally for the Six Day War led by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, at which he composed his musical gem “Am Yisrael Chai.”
I also explained to my children that rallies were a Jewish ideal. Our tradition maintains that nothing is more powerful than Jews gathered together for a sacred purpose, nothing more potent than individuals putting the community first and themselves second.
Indeed, all rallies share one common element: physical togetherness. For centuries, togetherness has been considered an integral part of social movements. For as long as we have been a nation, Jewish unity (Achdut) has been the ultimate goal. As such, I believe that Jewish activism is most impactful when we go back to our roots and stand shoulder to shoulder to make our voices heard.
I am not disparaging “hashtag activism” or other forms of online advocacy, but I want to make sure that we avoid putting rallies out to pasture, whether on purpose or by accident. Rallies are too important to humanity as a whole and Judaism in specific to allow them to become marginalized or forgotten.
Especially at a time like this, with so many elected officials remaining silent about the abduction of three innocent children, it is important that we harness the power of rallies to “get in their faces” in a way that cannot be ignored.
Yesterday’s rally moved me for many reasons. For one thing, it was special to pass the torch of “old school activism” onto my children. I also felt very much “in my element” surrounded by so many other like-minded Jews, and I could feel that everyone else felt the same. But most importantly, I truly believe that we – the holy mixed multitude on 2nd Avenue – made a difference in some small way.
But the fight for our boys is far from over.
We must continue to gather together in locations across the globe to demand the release of our children and protest the silence of our elected officials – unrelenting, unyielding – until Gil-Ad, Eyal, and Naftli return home safely.
By all means, keep the #BringBackOurBoys campaign going strong. Just be sure to do some of your Tweeting from a rally.