To borrow a phrase, my husband & I went to the mall with some friends yesterday. We were part of the March for Israel in Washington DC, two of the almost 300,000 people showing our support for Israel during this terrible war.
Dozens of friends & family called and texted their good wishes and worries. Have fun, be careful, stay safe, watch Roger, don’t let him talk to any protesters.
We were a little worried, but resolved to go. Roger was on the Mall in 2002 at the height of the Second Intifada, the last time the American Jewish community came out like this in support of Israel. There are friends who love you, Golda Meir once said, and then there are friends who love you and show up. We wanted to show up.
During the ride we started to worry about attendance. Initial estimates were that the rally would draw 60,000. That’s a lot of people, but it doesn’t look like a lot in that big space. 100,000 another website said. That would be better. Our Federation had 2 buses, and we heard of a third bus from Raleigh. A local university supposedly filled 2 more, so that was 5 buses, a total of 250 people, for our little part of America.
A friend texted that there were 30 buses from Cleveland. Someone said people were flying from Arizona. There was a rumor about a bus from Wisconsin, that Miami had chartered planes and Sarasota even had a flight. Did you hear that Yeshiva University cancelled all classes and were sending the whole student body in? Could all these rumors really be true? Would a lot of people show up? Yes, in fact, and more. 300,000 strong.
Our bus pulled into the Metro parking lot right next to 40 buses chartered by Yeshiva University. We admire YU’s President Berman for being such a principled leader in these days of moral confusion on the college campus. He cancelled school and loaded thousands of students onto buses in matching blue sweatshirts which read “Am Yisrael Chai (The People of Israel Live) YU Stands with Israel.”
Since we parked near them, we walked and rode the metro with them. These kids, singing summer camp songs of Jewish pride, made the bowels of the DC Metro sound & feel like a holy place. We caught their energy, their youthful, hopeful spirit. It was a transfusion of strength.
And then we got to the Mall. It was so crowded, with so many people it was disorienting. We had been to the Mall many times before, but even the grand Smithsonian buildings were dwarfed by the sheer number of people filling the area singing, dancing, waving flags.
We met the Ohio State kids who drove all night and were as perky as ever. And people from the Bay Area of San Francisco who took the red eye. Other North Carolinians from Greensboro, people from my hometown of Boston, religious girls from a seminary in Pittsburgh, Andrea Levin, president of CAMERA the media watchdog group, the Chabad Rabbi in charge of Sinai scholars, Hadassah ladies, and Christians from all over the place with their own matching blue t-shirts.
We’ve been to the Rose Parade on New Year’s day, but have never been with that many people at one time. As my friends well know, I’m not even 5 feet tall. I could hardly see, but I could hear, and feel. I could hear Tovah Feldshuh brimming with pride saying “I’ve played some big houses before, but I ain’t never seen anything like this.” I could hear Natan Sharansky, in his heavily accented English, remind us of the strength he got, sitting in a Soviet prison, from the 1987 version of this same march. I could hear Representatives from the White House, from Democrats and Republicans of the Senate and Congress. I could feel the Mall erupt with applause when the Speaker of the House said no ceasefire.
It was a cold November day, in the 50s, with a bit of a chilling wind. I brought a heavy jacket and was sweating. When you’re standing among 300,000 people singing and clapping and cheering, you’re just not cold.
Due to the magic of WhatsApp, we found our dear friend, a college professor from Pennsylvania, in the throng. We found our Rabbi’s son in law, who, in true scholar form, taught us something from the Torah. That phrase “from the river to the sea” which has been co-opted and twisted in the worst possible way, is a terrible perversion of a beautiful phrase from Deuteronomy 11:24 in which G-d tells Moses and the Jewish people from the “river to the sea, this will be your boundary.” Italics mine. Go ahead, grab a Bible and look it up.
Roger put tefillin on with a little help from a sweet young Rabbinic student from Brooklyn. While doing so, a small camera crew from a YouTube channel started filming it. They asked perceptive questions about tefillin and by the end were fist pumping and wishing us well.
Bring them home. Because I’m a little lacking in the faith department, though I pray for it daily, I struggle with believing the hostages will actually be rescued. Because I’m a pampered American, I cannot bear to think too long on their plight, that of the baby who took his first steps in captivity, the pregnant woman who may have delivered underground in one of those tunnels, the elderly people, Holocaust survivors without medicine. I’m beyond enraged at those who plead for the patients in the Hamas hospital and who refuse to have a moment of concern for our hostages.
The IDF is entering that terrible Hamas headquarters/hospital with incubators. Pause to consider that again. Will this ever be taught in the military academies? Israel, the only army in the history of the world to enter dangerous, dense urban combat with incubators for the children of people aiming to kill them.
Each time a speaker mentioned the hostages, they were interrupted by persistent chants of BRING THEM HOME. And I mean every time. Each time it went on long enough that the speaker had to pause. It didn’t matter if the speaker was a politician or a celebrity, they interrupted. These people believe deep in their souls, that the hostages will be freed. A prayer that sincere, a belief that deep, despite all that we see, must be granted. Please.
Debra Messing demanded that the world not move on. Three families of the hostages were given the honor of closing the march. They each introduced us to their family member, told us of the people and the lives behind those faces on the those photos. Each person is an entire world. Bring them home, now.
Security was amazing. I saw Capitol Policemen, Park Service Police and Soldiers from the National Guard. They placed construction equipment, trucks & small tanks to block the streets leading to the mall. A helicopter circled us the entire time. There were stern looking guys with ear pieces standing throughout the crowd looking around like you see those secret service guys do. All the security personnel were professional, polite and happy to pose with us for pictures. I’m sure they are under orders not to chat, but their support for us felt pretty obvious. During the rally, my friend texted me that the FBI regarded this as a level 1 (highest) risk situation. But we had no problems. We were safe, these guys quite literally had our backs.
Our bus driver Kevin got us to DC in 4 hours and back to Raleigh in 5, no small feat. When we pulled into the synagogue parking lot at 10:30 PM, he took the microphone and said “I’m not Jewish, but I go to Church. I know what you’re doing and I’m with you. We did it, we accomplished our mission today.” Yes we did.
Roger & I thought we were doing this for Israel, but we now know we were really doing this for ourselves. Though our families and friends in Israel are ok, so many people they know in Israel are not. These 40 days have been among the hardest ever known in Israel. And here in the US, seeing the eruption of pro-Hamas sentiment in cities and campuses throughout the nation, including our own city, our hometowns and our former campuses, we have a chilling sense of how fragile a thing is peace, how easily a civilization can lose all sense of right and wrong, and how frightening it is to be a member of a targeted group.
Though exhausted this morning, we both feel great. We got tremendous strength from being a part of the rally. Israel is strong. The IDF is performing brilliantly and honorably, the Israeli civilian population is united and resolute. The American Jewish community too, is unified and has now mobilized impressively. And despite our detractors, we know we have a lot of very good friends. In the White House and in the halls of Congress, in Churches across the country, among the policemen and bus drivers too. And as for me and Roger, we have our own crew of family and friends who have our backs.
Am Yisrael Chai.