I would like to begin by saying thank you.
As someone who lives in Israel, I was given chizuk by the very strong showing yesterday in Washington. It was genuinely encouraging to know that we are truly not alone, that the American Jewish community is willing to support its brothers and sisters in Israel both verbally, and with significant, meaningful action. So many of you took a full day off, traveled miles from your homes, and publicly declared your powerful support for the State of Israel. I watched much of the rally online and was moved by so many of the speakers.
Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
First, it served as a reminder to the United States government that support for Israel remains strong and powerful, emotionally resonant and politically advantageous. With American streets filled with protests demanding that Israel stop defending itself, and American screens and social media broadcasting these messages in ever louder tones, the contrasting position with which we are associated needed to be unmistakably articulated; in this the rally clearly succeeded.
Second, it was an echo of the first Rashi in the Torah, where the great commentator asks why God’s word begins with the creation of the universe, rather than with the first commandment given to Moses. Rashi famously answers:
“The power of His actions He told His people, to give them the heritage of nations.” (Psalms 111:6) Because if the nations of the world should say to Israel, “You are thieves, for you conquered the lands of the seven Canaanite nations!” they can respond, “The entire earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed is He. He created it and gave it to whom He desired; He willed to give it to them, and willed to take it away from them and give it to us.”
The key to understanding Rashi is his citation from Psalms, “The power of His actions He told His people.” Rashi certainly did not believe that the nations who make this claim against Israel – a claim which could have been torn from the headlines today, rather than from a millennium-old Midrash – will be swayed by the words of the Torah. We need to know how to respond to this claim not because our antagonists will believe us, but so that we can have confidence in the rightness of our own position. “He told His people” because the first and most crucial step in advocating for Israel is inculcating in ourselves the knowledge of the justice of our cause.
I believe that yesterday’s rally was designed to inject American Jewry with the self-confidence to know that we stand on the side of righteousness, justice, and morality. This self-confidence, however, is much like faith: while it surely provides personal satisfaction, it is only truly meaningful if it leads to positive action. And in that sense, we will only know if the rally was a success if we see increased efforts on the part of the American Jewish community for the State of Israel.
I am concerned that some participants will see yesterday’s rally as a conclusion instead of as a beginning, as the culmination of its support rather than as a spur for further action. Despite the well-deserved good feeling generated yesterday, the reality remains that 350,000 reservists continue to fight against an enemy who is trying to kill them, more than 240 hostages continue to be imprisoned with no contact with the outside world, countless families and friends of those who were kidnapped continue living a nightmarish existence, and every Jew in Israel continues to live under the constant threat of rocket attacks, whether from Gaza, Lebanon, Yemen, or other countries yet unknown. Iran advances toward nuclear weapons, troops have massed near the Syrian-Israeli border, and terrorists living in the West Bank repeatedly attack and murder Israelis. International pressure for a ceasefire before Hamas has been eradicated grows daily, and latent antisemitism becomes more overt with every passing hour.
No, this rally cannot be the culmination of Jewish efforts to support Israel and to defeat antisemitism. It must instead be a shot in the arm so that even greater efforts to support Israel and fight antisemitism begin right now.
What form will these efforts take? That’s the challenge that confronts every one of us who loves and admires Israel. In my opinion, these efforts must include continued and increased political action in order to demand that our kidnapped brothers and sisters are released, and so that support for Israel’s war of survival remains strong in the halls of government. They must include fervent and frequent prayer. They must include continued chesed and acts of lovingkindness in order to help our soldiers, the families who have suffered the loss of loved ones, and the tens of thousands of Israelis who have been displaced. They must include a renewed commitment to achdut, to the belief in the unity of the People of Israel, and practical steps to ensure that this unity doesn’t dissipate. They must include genuine hakarat hatov – words and actions of gratitude and love – to the many wonderful individuals outside of the Jewish community who continually express their solidarity and support. They must include continued pressure on university administrators who hear calls on campus for a Jewish genocide, to speak out against these despicable and violent sentiments. And there are surely many other important actions that everyone can and must continue to undertake – not the least visiting Israel, and perhaps even considering making Israel your home.
So thank you all – and I wish you godspeed. May yesterday’s genuine sanctification of the divine Name lead to intensified resolve in our support for the State of Israel, to greater dedication to the People of Israel, to increased love for those who stand with us, and to a heightened sense of commitment to becoming the people – and the nation – that we aspire to be.