The powerful sight of nearly 300,000 people singing Israel’s National anthem, Hatikvah, was one of the most memorable moments I experienced at the historic March for Israel that took place at the National Mall in DC on November 14. The words spoken about Jewish people being able to live freely in the land of Zion sounded as relevant today as when they were written, and the same hope that was not lost over 2,000 years and that still touches our hearts was felt in the air as speakers took the stage one after the other. The March for Israel event has officially become the largest gathering of Jewish people in the US, where members of Jewish communities and organizations from the entire political and religious spectrum and from across the country joined together to deliver a strong message to Capitol Hill and the world: support Israel, free the hostages, and denounce antisemitism.
If there was something the Jewish community needed since the horrific events of October 7 in Israel, it was to know that we can come together in unity and that we are not alone. Mr. Natan Sharansky, the Soviet dissident who 26 years ago took the same stage during the Freedom Sunday Rally for the Soviet Jews, expressed this sentiment when he said that “as long as we all stand together and fight together, we will win, and that is what gives us hope in Israel.” Before the March, many people felt isolated when voicing their support for Israel, whether in their own local community, in their workplace, or on college campuses. Coming together in DC demonstrated our collective strength, giving every participant the opportunity to feel a sense of togetherness, of determination, and of empowerment. The support of speakers and those who were not Jewish but who showed up to stand together with the community was also noticed and welcomed with gratitude.
While the main event of the March for Israel began at 1pm, special attention should be given to the Youth Rally which preceded it. Delegations of students arrived in DC by buses, trains, and planes, many of them skipping classes, lining up from the early morning with banners and signs they drew by hand, wearing T-shirts representing their youth movements. The total number of students at the rally was estimated at about 10% of all participants. Ten student leaders highlighted the work they currently do while facing the difficult environment on campuses, speaking with a sense of pride and eloquence and inspiring others. Bali Lavine from Tulane University, who represented the Students Supporting Israel (SSI) movement, shared her experience of organizing a rally with over 1,000 students and community members, creating an “empty chair” shabbat dinner table display that brings awareness to the Israeli hostages, and speaking at local events as examples to her activism. Each student speaker ended their comments with the encouraging words “And you can too!” mobilizing others. If anyone had doubts regarding the commitment of the young generation to fight for our values, hearing the courageous young presenters at the rally showed that the future leaders of the Jewish community are forming here in front of our eyes.
Importantly, the March for Israel was an event that called for action. Each one of those who showed up in DC, or those who were unable to show up at the Capitol but were involved with their local circles trying to do what they can, said: Hineni. This word that appears in many Jewish texts represents a person answering a call. While Israelis are now called for duty to protect their country, those outside of Israel, in communities around the world, also have the duty to speak up. Attending the March for Israel was to tangibly feel the collective power of hundreds of thousands of people coming together to reaffirm our commitment to keep taking action towards the three major issues of supporting the State of Israel, bringing the hostages home, and fighting antisemitism in all of its forms.