US pro-Israel march delivers powerful message
JTA – Hannah Kaplan, a senior at Tiffin University in northern Ohio, can identify exactly one other Jew in the school’s student body of about 3 000. She says she’s felt lonely since 7 October, so she got a seat on a bus leaving from Ohio State University and took the seven-hour ride to Washington, DC, for what ended up being perhaps the largest Jewish gathering in American history on Tuesday, 14 November, the pro-Israel rally on the National Mall.
The pull Kaplan felt – to be around many, many other Jews at an uncertain time for Israel and American Jewry – was shared by attendees across the hundreds of thousands who filled the grassy expanse in the nation’s capital for two hours on Tuesday afternoon. Dozens of people who spoke to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency mentioned their support for Israel when they described what they hoped to hear at the rally. But mostly, they said, they were excited to be in a crowd of their own.
“The world can see that we’re together,” said Marnie Atias, who flew with her 15-year-old from Milwaukee.
The crowd was a mix of young and old, with a large proportion of Orthodox attendees, in part a reflection of the decision by Jewish schools and universities to cancel classes and bus students – and in some cases their families – to Washington, DC.
Politically, attendees seemed to reflect the broad pro-Israel tent that the organisers had hoped for, with right-wing demonstrators standing in the same crowd as a “Peace Bloc” organised by progressive Jewish groups. Signs mostly declared broad support for Israel, opposition to antisemitism, a call to free the hostages, or condemnation of Hamas. Many held the hostage posters that have become a common sight in cities across the world, with more strewn in spots across the Mall.
There were also some Jewish demonstration mainstays. A group from the activist anti-Zionist Hasidic group Neturei Karta protested outside the event’s security barricade. Emissaries of the Chabad Hasidic movement roved around the crowd, seeking men who could put on tefillin. A man sold Israeli flags – $10 each (R185) – from a cart, along with pins with messages such as, “Go to Hell Harvard” – a reference to recent accusations that the university hasn’t done enough to fight antisemitism, and “F-Iran” over a picture of former President Donald Trump.
There were also a significant number of Christians at the rally, but the vast majority were Jews.