In contrast to the anti-Israel crowds who have been making daily appearances at some of New York’s most recognizable landmarks, most readers of this publication have jobs and families to support. We have little time available for rallies in the streets, and we know that doing so will not result in as much news coverage or social media attention. When public opinion polls show diminishing support for Israel and growing sympathy for a ceasefire that keeps Hamas in power, the rally in Washington appeared to have another goal in mind.
“The most challenging part was trying to find buses, as lots of people were trying to go for the same resource. There were other shuls in Kew Gardens Hills that were sending buses, and we saw incredible demand in the community,” said Reuben Paris, President of the Young Israel of Queens Valley. “We got five buses, which brought 280 passengers.”
The effort behind this mission involved many individuals who each made a unique contribution to the effort. “We had assistance from people who were unable to make it to the rally, such as sponsorships for other passengers, food, and picking up necessities. Even things as mundane as air fresheners for the bathrooms. They printed T’hilim cards. Pahal Zan [Restaurant] in Forest Hills was very interested in helping us. They provided us with a falafel dinner,” Paris said. “Assemblyman Sam Berger secured police permits for the buses to park by the shul.”
Aboard his bus, Rabbi Shmuel Marcus, the rav of YIQV, spoke words of chizuk, with T’hilim, and an active member of the IDF who spoke of his experience defending the kibbutzim on Sh’mini Atzeres, when Hamas carried out the massacre of more than 1,200 people, along with the kidnapping of more than 240 who were taken to Gaza. Participants on the four other buses heard these speeches using a live screening on Zoom.
On the long drive to Washington, participants spoke about family members in Israel who live in fear of rockets and terrorists, and their personal experiences with anti-Semitism. A retiree seeking a second career as a Hebrew-English translator spoke about a professor at Hunter College who refused to accommodate his Shabbos observance request. His appeal to the professor was met with a reply asking him for flexibility, and his appeal to the president of the college was bogged down in bureaucracy. He then requested the assistance of the American Center of Law and Justice, a conservative organization that defends religious freedom cases in court.
When nothing else works, perhaps the negative publicity, legal expenses, and withdrawal of donations by alumni and elected officials are the best tools available to keep campuses safe for Jewish students and others who oppose Marxism.
I also met participants who attended the last march on Washington of comparable size, in 2002 when Israel was defending itself during the Second Intifada. “There were way more people at this week’s rally,” said Shlomo Orbach. “Last time, there were loads of people walking to the rally. We were able to stand 200 feet from the podium, and I could see the faces of the speakers. It was a nice crowd, maybe about half or two-thirds of this rally.”
Orbach traveled with YIQV, arriving at the National Mall around 2:30 p.m., missing Natan Sharansky’s speech, and performances by Ishai Ribo and Omer Adam. He rushed off the bus and onto the subway so as not to miss the historic gathering. From his place in the crowd near the Smithsonian Castle, he could see the dome of the Capitol in the distance and the speakers on big screens, but he was not disappointed at all.
“There were many yeshivos and quite a number of older people who had a feeling of exhilaration to be together with so many Jews,” he said. “It’s a very dire situation in America. We still have goyim standing up for us, but it will diminish. I am pessimistic. It’s noteworthy that so many Jews responded.”
On my walk through the crowd, I saw black hats and cowboy hats; women with kippahs, tichels, and sheitels; flags of Israel, this country, and other colors. While social media comments focused on the presence of Pastor John Hagee, a supporter of Israel whose past statements on the Holocaust offended many Jews, to those of us who were there, his speech at the rally did not deviate from the overall message of letting Israel defeat Hamas. Other comments focused on Van Jones, whose speech was less militant in support of Israel.
“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,” he said. “I also pray that Hamas ends its reign of terror.”
Some in the crowd jeered when he called for no more bombs or rockets in either direction. Critics on social media picked up on it, but most of us in the crowd were happy to see a former advisor to President Obama standing up for Israel in his own way. He was on stage with other Black allies who spoke, including Reps. Ritchie Torres and Hakeem Jeffries, and Dr. Rochelle Ford, president of Dillard University, a historically Black college. It was touching to see House Speaker Mike Johnson holding hands with Minority Leader Jeffries and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who rarely agree on anything in politics. As is often the case, social media does not reflect conditions on the ground.
Tim Rosen also attended the rallies in 2002 and last week. “There was a sense of urgency to the blatant outpouring of anti-Semitism. That’s why so many people turned out. The speakers were great, but it was about seeing people from so many walks of life, Democrats, Republicans, with yarmulkes and without.”
On the subway ride back to the stadium parking lot outside Washington, Paris felt that the energy of the Rally for Israel carried on. “People bursting into songs and davening on the Metro, seeing so many diverse Jews together, and it was inspirational. We went out of concern for the chayalim and the hostages,” he said. “Officers were overheard speaking of how participants thanked them for their work. We are unique in how we did it.”
My train back to the stadium parking lot was filled with students and faculty from Yeshiva University, its men’s and women’s colleges. When we read that so many members of the post-millennial generation support calls for a ceasefire without the release of hostages, it was heartwarming to see young Jews taking up the cause of Israel in numbers that exceeded the 1987 march on Washington for Soviet Jews, and the 2002 rally.
My bus back home included a woman whose grandfather, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Glatt, participated in the 1943 Rabbs’ March on the Capitol. She also spoke of mixed feelings of the widespread disregard for Jewish lives and the renewal of Jewish activism in public.
“How could I not be here? My grandfather went to Washington and so we must go,” she told me.
By Sergey Kadinsky