Van Wallach
A Jew from Texas, who knew?

When Van Heard Van at the March for Israel

Flags united.
Flags from a special day of unity.

The November 14 March for Israel delivered everything I could desire in an urgent Jewish event:

  • More than 100,000 people showed up to voice their support to free the hostages, support Israel and  fight antisemitism. Attendance far exceeded my expectations, capturing the spirit of the December 1987 march in Washington for Soviet Jewry and the January 2020 march across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest antisemitism.
  • The event embraced the total range of Jews, from the secular, pride-flag contingent through all streams and into black-hat Orthodoxy. Our political and halachic variations fell away, at least for the day, as klal Yisrael, all of Israel, stood together.
  • It had waving masses of Israeli flags and as many American flags as at a typical Kid Rock concert.
Flags united.
  • It featured speakers who brought passion and experience, including one of my personal heroes, Natan Sharansky, along with Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt, families of hostages, organizational leaders, and musicians Omer Adam and Matisyahu for performances that had the audience singing and swaying. The non-Jewish speakers especially caught my interest as they voiced the support of allies—of which we need all we can find. For example, I learned that Dillon University in New Orleans has a National Center for Black-Jewish Relations.
  • It connected me in a visceral way to friends from college and my local community as we shared a historic event together and will be deepening our connections. It also drew support from my childhood evangelical friends in Texas who care deeply about Israel.

One part of the day I did not anticipate at all:  the appearance of commentator and political advisor Van Jones.

Van Jones takes the stage.

Not knowing the lineup of speakers, I had no idea Jones would  be there. I know who he is and our politics are far apart. Still, from the very mention of him, my ears perked up—and not just because we are both named “Van.”

When he hit the stage, I started furiously taking notes because I knew he would bring a distinctive perspective to the day. While the other speakers were stirring, they said what I expected them to say. How would Jones approach the crisis? I’ve never associated him with Jewish causes. To his credit, Jones must have expected that puzzlement, since he opened by asking, “Why am I here?”

Key points to answer the question:

“I don’t want to be silent, because the Jewish community stood with the civil rights movement. Walking arm-in-arm, facing death, going to jail. The Jewish community stood with the civil rights movement and I cannot be silent when Jews are under attack today.

That’s why I’m here. Now, whatever our different political beliefs and views are about what’s happening overseas, you do not have to support all the policies of Israel to support and love and stand with all the people of Israel during a time of profound mourning. That’s why I’m here. . .

Now like all of us, and as was just said, my heart breaks for all the Israeli children, my heart breaks for all the Palestinian children, and my heart breaks for all the Jewish American children who are now also living in fear. I pray that every single hostage is released. I pray, bring them home.

Jones’ overall support for Israel and the hostages resonated with me. I give him a lot of respect for appearing, as he must have known he’d catch flack from progressives who were aghast at the whole idea of sharing a stage with the Jews.

Black Enterprise, for example, wrote,

Many felt that Jones’ new position in support of Israel’s decades-long war with Palestinians, inferred by his willingness to appear at the rally, was in direct opposition to his stance earlier in his life and political career. Others saw his speech at the March For Israel as another instance of his attempt to appeal to both sides of controversial issues.

Whatever the brickbats, I’m glad Jones appeared and his comments bolstered my interest in what he says. I may not agree, but I’ll listen.

While Jones spoke early in the day, other allies spoke later. Again, I appreciated their readiness to step up in a volatile situation. They were Pastor John Hagee, founder and chairman of Christians United for Israel (CUFI); Dr. Rochelle Ford, president of Dillon University in New Orleans, who has posted her views on the Hamas pogrom on the Dillon website and her rally speech mirrored them; and Anila Ali, a Pakistani-American interfaith activist who led a delegation of mostly Muslim women to Israel in 2022.

Speaking in the cadences I would expect from a Southern preacher, Brother Hagee said, “As we gather here today, in Israel’s darkest hour since the Holocaust, the Jewish people once again search the globe for friends. I am here to deliver a singular message—Israel, you are not alone.” His Torah references spanned Joshua, David, Solomon, Pharaoh, Haman and “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” His closing line came from Psalms 121: “He Who watches over Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers.”

Hagee draws plenty of negative coverage based on past comments about Jews and Israel reflecting an apocalyptic Christian vision of Jewish history; I’ve heard first-hand the hostility Hagee and CUFI ignite even among people involved Christian-Jewish relations. Still, nobody raised more eyebrows among my circle of friends than Jones. This multi-author exchange shows other people were also listening:

Friend 1: Van Jones?!?!!!

Me: My reaction exactly. He said some good things and was careful to mention all children. I took notes on it.

Friend 2: He has a lot of Jewish friends—though of the progressive persuasion.

Me: He was a speaker that made me pay careful attention because he was so unexpected.

Friend 3: Me, too. You could tell he was sort of working to avoid calling for a ceasefire, and even that resulted in, well, dampened applause. But I was glad he spoke.

Me: First I thought, “did he show up at the wrong event?” But he made his case ably and honestly. I would have liked to hear some other unexpected voices. Zelensky could have called in.

Leaving the rally, I stopped to pick up posters of the hostages. The notion of leaving them on the ground to be dumped in the trash disturbed me; I shuddered at the related image of gleeful pierced-septum Hamas supporters ripping down hostage posters. I brought several back home with me on the bus. Here, they remind me of what the day sought to achieve, how Jews and allies are keeping the hostages in our hearts, minds and actions as the war continues. Of the missing, I will keep those on the posters especially close, these four of the 240:

  • Hila Rotem-Shoshani, 13 years old
  • Dolev Yehuod, 35 years old
  • Judith Weinstein, 70 years old
  • Chaim Peri, 79 years old

May they and all the hostages return home soon to their loved ones.

Remembering hostages.
About the Author
Van "Ze'ev" Wallach is a writer in Westchester County, NY. A native of Mission, Texas, he holds an economics degree from Princeton University. His work as a journalist appeared in Advertising Age, the New York Post, Venture, The Journal of Commerce, Newsday, Video Store, the Hollywood Reporter, and the Jewish Daily Forward. A language buff, Van has studied Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew, although he can’t speak any of them. He is the author of "A Kosher Dating Odyssey." He is a budding performer at open-mic events.
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