When I learned that Elisha Wiesel was the moving force behind the No Fear Rally in Washington, DC this past Sunday, I decided to go. If 30,000 people went to Washington on January 6 to support a lie, I needed to join My People on July 11 to proclaim a few simple truths which should be self-evident. Had I been in NYC, the trip would have been simple, either taking a chartered bus or the train to Union Station. Since there was no organized transportation from Cleveland, Sunday morning at 6:45 I took to the highway with my destination being the Shady Grove stop of the Washington Metro, the farthest stop out. I made my reservation at the Holiday Inn Express in Breezewood for Sunday evening, knowing that after the drive and the Rally I wouldn’t want to drive back to Cleveland at night. Given the severe thunderstorms that stalled over southern Pennsylvania on Sunday evening, I made a very wise decision.
Despite making excellent time, I arrived at the Rally 30 minutes after it began at 1, missing the first group of speakers. I assumed the absence of My People on the Metro or walking to the Rally site was because I was late. I arrived, found my place and took it all in. I’ve been to many rallies and marches over my decades of activism in Washington, NYC, Cleveland and Israel. I knew that a rally planned for the height of the summer during a period when hundreds of teenagers in Jewish camps could not join the Rally because of Covid restrictions would lack that youthful energy that rallies thrive on. I knew that if a Jewish community as strong as Cleveland did not jump to put together a bus, the attendance might not match the 30,000 that showed up to support a lie in January. Yet, I also knew that if Elie Wiesel’s son Elisha felt called to continue his father’s work during this moment in American and Jewish history, I was going to be present and participate in this movement to rid our American society of the evils of hatred, bigotry, intolerance, fear and falsehood. In this moment, We are called to breath new life into the idea of loving our neighbor as a fundamental premise of our American society. That is what I heard loud and clear from Elisha Wiesel. I smiled, thinking of the poster I had considered making – LOUD, PROUD, LOVING AMERICAN JEW.
It was fitting that the weather reflected a very hot Tel Aviv afternoon in summer as one of the core messages of the No Fear Rally was simple – anti-Zionism is, in fact, anti-Semitism. The Jewish People and the Jewish State cannot be separated. That is a simple fact. Addressing this, Elisha recalled his father taking opportunities to meet with Mahmoud Abbas and other Arab leaders, trying to bring his voice of moral reason to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The man next to me, in a snide and obnoxious tone of voice remarked, several times, “that went well, didn’t it.” In that moment, I saw that We, the Jewish People, still have much work to do within our own house. How concerning that a pro-Israel American Jewish man of my generation reacted to Elie Wiesel’s efforts to achieve peace between Jews and Arabs with disgust. There is sickness within our People on both sides of the ideological spectrum. If We are to help heal America, we must also heal ourselves.
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers from Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue spoke eloquently about the core precepts of our American Democracy – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. With our Capitol as the backdrop, Rabbi Myers proclaimed that anyone holding anti-Semitic beliefs simply cannot claim to believe in the core ideals of America. The ideas are simply inconsistent. I was honored to meet Rabbi Myers after his remarks, introduced by my dear friend and Maestro Mati Lazar, the founder and director of the Zamir Choral Foundation. As a Board member of the ZCF, I was proud that we signed up as a sponsor of the No Fear Rally and glad to see Mati in DC. Given that Elie Wiesel was a great lover of Jewish choral music and a great friend of the ZCF, it was obvious to include the voice of the Jewish choral movement in the call for Jewish harmony.
Unlike other Rally goers, I stayed in the sun to the end, sweating it out, forgoing the shade where the chatter of the crowd made the speakers hard to hear. As the Rally concluded, I expected a large group of Rally goers to head to the Metro but in fact, I ended up walking with only one gentleman, a local named Zev. The familiar game of Jewish geography quickly took us to our point of commonality and of course, it was within the Jewish choral community. After only a few questions our connection turned out to be my favorite conductor at the annual North American Jewish Choral Festival (a project of the ZCF), Eleanor Epstein and her husband Barry! Not only have they been friends for years, Eleanor played the piano at Zev’s wedding. I took that as a Divine Smile for making the trip to DC.
Zev was going the other way so we said goodbye at Union Station and parted ways. Once again, I was the only Rally goer on the Metro, now an obvious indicator of the size of the crowd. 45 minutes later I reclaimed my car in the Shady Grove parking lot and headed northwest toward Breezewood, Pennsylvania, otherwise known as America’s truck stop, where I-70 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike meet. My adventures should have been over but She Above had a little more work for me to do before I arrived home in Beachwood on Monday afternoon. As I turned into the driveway of the Holiday Inn Express from that stressful stretch of road known as the Lincoln Highway, I hit the curb. A very high curb. I heard the pop of my passenger side rear tire and was not surprised when it was pointed out to me just after I parked the car at my destination that I had a very flat tire.
So it was that I was that I had a few more encounters with strangers during this rather fraught post-pandemic period in America. Luckily, there was a Bob Evans restaurant very walkable from the hotel. As the skies were turning very dark, I debated between my rain poncho and Mom’s umbrella, opting for the umbrella. After ordering, I was relieved to find my AAA card and even more relieved that my membership was current! Knowing that I would need a tow to a tire store in the morning, I relaxed into my evening at Bob Evans in Breezewood. Mother Nature, however, was as stormy as I’ve seen Her all summer and it was clear that despite my mother’s red polka dotted umbrella, I was going nowhere given the torrential rains and the fierce lightning. Sitting the lobby of Bob Evans, I met fellow travelers from Johnstown, Pennsylvania who had stopped for dinner on their way home. As the storm raged, they offered me a ride in their lovely BMW SUV to my hotel. The kindness of strangers is the purest form of loving your neighbor as yourself. Thank you to the Corey’s from Johnstown for your kindness on a stormy night in Breezewood.
At 8:28 on Monday morning, just like AAA promised, Kenny from LaSalle’s Towing arrived in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn Express. With my Rav4 on the platform behind us, I joined Kenny in the front seat and began to talk, as I always do. As he drove me to the tire shop in Everett, just 6 miles west on that same Lincoln Highway, I shared with Kenny why I went to Washington. Sensing that Kenny probably supported what happened on January 6, I chose my words carefully. I asked Kenny if had ever heard of a writer by the name of Elie Wiesel. I explained who he was and that I went to Washington to go to a rally organized by his son. I talked about how important it is for Americans to value, in addition to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, love in the sense of caring for the other. I put this in language that I thought Kenny would be able to understand. I described our American society as a vehicle, one big community car, and as we know, cars need all four tires to be inflated in order for the car to move. My flat tire is a sign that in America today, we are lacking love for our neighbor. I strove to find common ground with Kenny, knowing that we probably don’t agree on very much. If Kenny and I can agree that in our America, we need to inflate the tire of kindness, respect, tolerance and acceptance of those who are different, there may be hope for America.
Never forget. Never forego the essence of being a Jew, whether in America or Israel. It is up to each of us to blow up that fourth tire, to breath new life into that fourth essential principle of American life. Without love as a core precept, the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness foment a sickness within American society. A society so sick that Rabbi Jeff Myers had to say the Viddui for his congregants, simply because they went to pray on Shabbat morning at Tree of Life. Never forget. Never again. Now is the time to inflate the fundamental principle of Love Your Neighbor. Now. Because at some point, we will all need a ride in the storm. We will all need a tow to make it home. Whether Home is the United State of America or the Homeland of the Jewish People, the State of Israel. Or Both.