The U.S. Jewish community marshaled a record-breaking nearly 300,000 people on the National Mall in Washington, DC, on a weekday, with fewer than two weeks of advance planning, to support Israel in its war with Hamas, to demand the return of the hostages in Gaza, and to call out the alarming rise in antisemitism.
The historic gathering on Tuesday, November 14 was notable for the impressive roster of speakers and the convictions they shared, the broad sense of unified national community, the impact the event had on attendees, and the encouragement it gave to our family in Israel.
The organizers of the event—the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations—brought together a broad, diverse and compelling group of speakers and performers. The presenters included Israeli President Isaac Herzog (speaking from the Kotel in Israel), Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog, former Chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky, U.S. Special Envoy to Combat Antisemitism Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Actresses Tovah Feldshuh and Debra Messing, Jewish musicians Ishay Ribo, Omer Adam Matisyahu and the Maccabeats.
The speakers also included ‘Voices of Allies’—Pastor John Hagee, founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, TX; Dr. Rochelle Ford, President of Dillard University; Anita Ali, a Pakistani American Muslim and women’s rights activist; representatives from the families of Israelis taken hostage by Hamas; students from George Washington University and Columbia University; and the top leaders of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents.
Ambassador Lipstadt remarked that “this government stands shoulder to shoulder against antisemitism,” and termed antisemitism “an affront to our laws” and “a direct danger to our democracy.” She said “antisemitism is not expressing support for Palestinian rights, it’s Jew hatred!” She also remarked “this fight will be won because there is no other option” and quoted President George Washington, in his letter to the synagogue in Rhode Island: “This nation gives bigotry no sanction.”
House Speaker Mike Johnson drew some of the most enthusiastic responses. He shared that in the morning he and other colleagues in the House had viewed a film, compiled by the Israeli government, of Hamas members’ own video recordings of the atrocities they committed on October 7. He remarked that many of them wept as they watched the film and some had to leave the room. He stated, to great applause, “Calls for a ceasefire are outrageous!” He asserted: “Israel will cease their counter-offensive when Hamas ceases to be a threat.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer led the crowd in a chant “We Stand With Israel!” and pointed out that the phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is a message calling to eliminate all the Jews in Israel. He shared that shortly after the October 7 massacre, he visited Israel with a group from the Senate and met with the families of people who’d been killed or kidnapped. He said, “We will fight for the hostages until they are all freed,” and mentioned that he told Israeli leaders, “We in America have your back and we won’t rest until you get the assistance you need.”
There were many other highlights in the different presentations: Natan Sharansky’s criticism of universities, “which are supposed to be bastions of democracy,” that host rallies that celebrate a massacre; media personality Van Jones stating that he decided to speak “because the Jewish community stood with the Civil Rights Movement;” Israeli President Issac Herzog’s thank you “to the hundreds of thousands who gathered from across the U.S. for a massive show of solidarity. You declared: Hineni!;” singer Ishay Ribo leading the crowds in a recitation of Perek 121 in Tehillim; and so much more.
There was a profound sense of achdut in so many aspects of the gathering.
It was evident in the grandmother, mother and daughter who traveled together for five and a half hours from Cleveland to attend the rally.
It was evident in the earnestness of Daniela, the teenager from Potomac, Maryland who was handing out red plastic #BringThem HomeNow bracelets she had printed and inviting donations so she could make more.
It was evident in the signs or T-shirts at the rally advertising attendees from Pittsburgh; Philadelphia; MetroWest, New Jersey; Rockland County, New York; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Canada, and the so large, you can’t miss ‘em contingents from yeshivot throughout the New York/New Jersey area. One attendee, a Yeshiva University-ordained congregational rabbi, remarked that he’d heard Yeshiva University alone sent 30 buses to the parade. Others remarked that it may have been more than 40.
“It was an exhilarating event and the right moment to come together to hear and live the message “We are Not Alone,” said Rabbi Daniel Cohen, rav of Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, Connecticut. “As Jews, we can never forget we are one family. As Americans, we heard that the government stands firmly with Israel and against antisemitism anywhere and everywhere, and we need to let the hostages know they are not alone and shout from the rooftops to ensure their speedy return home. I am proud that so many from our community and across the country rose to this moment in history.”
“Today, I attended the March for Israel and I was emotionally moved by the power of a rally with over 300,000 family members,” said Maurice Zagha of Manalapan. “In the week prior, I was asked why I was going. I said: ‘To support Israel.’ ‘Compelled to be there due to the hurt from Oct 7.’ Now that I have experienced the event I have a different answer. ‘We must stand together in solidarity with Israel and all Jews. We cannot cower with fear in the face of adversity. We must stand tall with justice. We must make our voice heard because if we don’t, no one else will.’”
“The DC rally was an incredible show of achdus,” said Rabbi Dr. Daniel Friedman of Teaneck. “Seeing Jews across the religious spectrum coming together, along with so many Christian friends, was heartwarming and encouraging to Jews around the world, including our brethren in Israel. As a professor at Lander, I was part of the Touro delegation. Yasher koach to the Orthodox schools and colleges who visibly swelled the ranks at the event.”
“History was made today,” said Rivka Sonts of Edison.”May Hashem see our unity and prayers and keep protecting our brothers and sisters in Israel and Jews around the world. The Jewish people are resilient and we are here to stay! Am Yisroel Chai!”
Olim from the New York/New Jersey region told The Jewish Link that they found the rally deeply encouraging.
“Sometimes I look at everything going on back in the States, from the antisemitism on college campuses to the hatred rearing its ugly head throughout the country’s leaders, and lose hope for the future of the U.S.-Israel bond,” said Jason Blatt, now of Herzliya. “Today was a glaring reminder how strong American Jewry is and how much love and support our two countries have for one another. I have been beyond proud being Israeli since October 7. Today, I am proud to be American.”
“To say we are living in unprecedented times is an understatement,” said Allison Spieser of Merchav Am. “It’s really important for us in Israel to see the turnout today in Washington, to feel that we are all in this together. It was inspiring to see so many people standing together for Israel. I know many people personally who attended out of a need to try and do something—a show of strength—to make sure that their voices are heard. I encourage everyone who attended or wanted to attend today’s rally to continue raising your voices strongly in support of Israel, and push against terrorism and antisemitism.”
“I am gratified to see that all parts of the Jewish community from all across the religious and political spectrum came together to support this rally,” said Judy Rebacz of Ma’ale Adumim. “I hope this show of unity will continue. It is also wonderful how the Jewish community has come together to monetarily support Israel in this time of need. While I would love for all Jews to come home to Israel, it is times like these that the importance of diaspora Jewry becomes apparent. Financial support as well as political support is so vital for those of us living in Israel. My sincere hope is that this rally will have a long lasting and significant and positive impact on the American Jewish community and in its influence on the American political scene.”
Harry Glazer is the Middlesex County Editor of The Jewish Link. He can be reached at [email protected]