When I was in 8th grade, my parents, siblings and I piled into our station wagon shortly after havdalah on a cold December Saturday night. We drove from our home in Long Branch, NJ to Washington DC and slept in a motel for the night so that we could participate in Freedom Sunday for Soviet Jewry, a march and political rally on the National Mall. The occasion was a two-day summit between President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. The American Jewish community showed up on December 6, 1987 in unprecedented numbers to support Soviet Jewry and to demand that Gorbachev liberalize the Soviet Union’s policies vis-a-vis the Jews. Despite the cold, about 250,000 people from all over the country attended the rally, the largest ever rally of American Jews in the nation’s capital. Communities from across the United States sent buses to DC and many flew in to DC for this important moment for American Jewry. My husband and his family took a bus with his JCC from Canton, Ohio.
Almost 15 years later, thousands of American Jews showed up again in DC to demonstrate our support for Israel during the Second Intifada. With only a week of planning and despite the unusual heat, about 100,000 people showed up on April 15, 2002. Once again, communities chartered buses, people drove through the night, and American Jews showed up to support their brethren.
We are called upon again to show up in DC to support our family, friends, fellow Jews, and all of the inhabitants of Israel. This time, my husband and I will be attending the rally with our own teenagers, and my parents will travel again from Long Branch, NJ to DC. Day schools, synagogues, and other communal organizations have already ordered buses, canceled classes, and shifted programming in order to attend this rally. Natan Sharansky, who spoke at the 1987 rally for Soviet Jewry, is urging all of us to join this rally (Never Again is Now). In the face of rising antisemitism and the shocking denial or justifications of the Hamas attacks of October 7th, so many sense the imperative to stand together with our collective broken spirit, show our support for Israel and each other, demand the return of the hostages, and let our voices be heard and our presence felt. This is the time to show up. Israel needs us.
When we encounter a moment like this, my mind immediately jumps to Megillat Esther, chapter 4. In this pivotal moment in the story, Esther hesitates at Mordechai’s request that she go to the King and beseech him to call off the genocide Haman planned for the Jews of the Persian Empire. Mordechai answers sharply, “If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place, while you and your father’s house will be lost. And who knows whether for this reason you became Queen.” Confronted with an awareness of her role, Esther assumes ownership of her own story and takes control of the situation. She asks the Jews of Shushan to fast on her behalf and then boldly invites the King and Haman to a party and then another. At the second party, she exposes Haman as the one threatening to destroy her people, and Esther saves the Jewish people.
This is our Esther moment. This is our moment to show up to support the Jewish State, to support the citizens of Israel, to demand the return of the hostages, and to stand up to hate and anti-Semitism. We might feel scared for our own safety, but we must overcome these fears and hesitations. We need to be Esther.