My alarm clock rang and I continued to silence it over the next two hours until I finally awoke at 10:35 on Sunday morning, January 5, 2020, knowing what I had done. The march started in 25 minutes.
“We’ll never make it,” I said to my boyfriend, Ben. Guilt pulsated through me as my mother’s voice saying If we don’t go, who will? played on repeat in my mind. I thought of the many recent antisemitic attacks, including the reported eight attacks on Jews in New York since the middle of December alone. Shootings. Stabbings. The death of our people. The murder of our people.
“Let’s go,” Ben decided. Considering we were going to arrive an hour late, we figured we’d have to do a bit of running to catch up with everyone marching.
When we emerged from the subway station, my jaw dropped and quickly reformed into a grin. There were thousands of people. The roads were blocked. People had already begun crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, and thousands more were crammed into the streets, winding back to the starting point of Foley Square and spilling beyond the borders directing the march. We made our way to the square, grabbed two out of the thousands of signs that were printed for the march, and set off.
It took us about two hours to walk less than two miles to Columbus Park, which lies just over the bridge on the Brooklyn side of the East River. We were two among an estimated 25,000+ people marching together to demonstrate that we will not stand for antisemitism; that something must be done to protect the Jewish people.
Entire families set out on the march, children in strollers, on parents’ hips, walking at their sides, strapped to their chests; elderly people—some with walkers, some without; people in wheelchairs; people of what seemed like every race and (I assume) religion, creed, gender, and sexual orientation (I saw more than a few rainbow, LGBTQ flags sporting Jewish stars in the center); and, significantly, Jews of every level of observance: Orthodox, conservative, reform, and everything in between. There were also Guardian Angel Safety Patrols, members of the New York City-based non-profit group that seeks to protect communities with trained volunteers and to educate members of the community on safety skills. They, too, marched in solidarity with their Jewish neighbors to stand up against antisemitism. Approximately 5,700 miles away, Jews in Jerusalem also marched to demonstrate their solidarity with American diaspora Jews.
It’s a powerful moment to be surrounded by a massive group of people standing in unison to combat a hatred that’s so persistent it seems to be composed of mystical qualities. It’s not every day that diaspora Jews feel their community is supporting them. In fact, as a diaspora Jew, I can say that I feel an unremitting weight in my stomach knowing that this usually isn’t the case. In the wake of the assassination of the top Iranian General, Qasem Soleimani, when I felt more unease than usual about the state of my people—especially given the threats Iran has issued about revenge—it was with bravery and with good old-fashioned Jewish defiance that over 25,000 people marched. Despite looming fears, despite the imminent risks, we marched in solidarity.
I don’t believe that a single person in that march, however—including Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio—was so naïve as to believe that antisemitism would settle down following our demonstration. Just after the event, a man who participated in the march and wore a kippah on the train home faced an antisemite who screamed at him, “fuck all you Jews” and threatened to beat him. He reported the incident to the police, resulting in the city’s first reported hate crime of 2020. It was crushing to hear about this incident, knowing that after feeling so empowered, so strong standing together, a man was forced to get off the train so as not to engage in brutality. And in the video, not one person on the train did a thing to intervene.
But this incident is important. It demonstrates in its own right the power of antisemitism; the unshakable strength it has in permeating the minds of people who just don’t have the intellectual capacity to see beyond it, the fear it instills in others (hence why no one intervened on the train), and the ability to isolate a group of people who somehow fuel this hatred with our absolute and complete refusal to let it overcome us. Yet, while antisemitism will likely always exist in a grossly destructive capacity, our refusal to submit to it, our refusal to feel fear, and our refusal to change what we do or to hide who we are is why antisemitism will never, ultimately, win.
To show your support, text NO HATE to 81336 (the Office of New York Governor Cuomo).