Any time you stand between the Capitol and the Washington Monument, sharing an afternoon with thousands of Jews, you can’t help but have feelings of pride. At the same time, it is sad that we need a rally in 2021 because Jews are being attacked.
I give a lot of credit to the organizers, specifically Elisha Wiesel, whose father taught us that to remain silent in the face of injustice is criminal. Would I have liked there to be more people there? Of course. But the rally was organized very quickly and the Jewish summer camps had Covid restrictions preventing them from attending.
Standing in that spot, I could not help but think back to December of 1987 when I helped bring 14 buses full of students from Yeshiva University to Washington D.C. for the rally for Soviet Jewry. With approximately 250,000 people in attendance, it was the largest Jewish rally ever held in Washington. Those were different times, with more time to organize and no Covid.
It was important to have a rally today to show that it is not acceptable for Jews anywhere to be attacked. It’s hard to say exactly how many people were there; likely between three and five thousand. The crowd was solid and listened to every word even in the heat with no shade.
It was encouraging to see young Jewish leaders speaking out unapologetically in a way that was pro-Jewish and pro-Israel. I was especially impressed with Alyza Lewin, president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, and with Blake Flayton of the New Zionist Congress. Both spoke about how universities have failed Jewish students. Flayton mentioned that when organizations call out anti-Semitism, they feel the need to apologize. He noted there are people who cloak anti-Semitism as fighting for social justice and challenged the tacit approval of anti-Semitism by those who remain silent.
Would I have liked to see more politicians there – since we were in their backyard? Yes, but most were on recess and thankfully there were both Republican and Democratic speakers. It is essential that protesting anti-Semitism and support for Israel remain bipartisan.
It was also great to see some non-Jewish speakers like Joshua Washington, who heads the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel, and Meghan McCain. It is heartwarming to see that we are not alone in this fight and there are people on our side who are not Jewish.
The Torah teaches, “Lo ta’amod al dam re’echa” (Do not stand idly by when the blood of another Jew is spilled). We must stand up for ourselves and we must stand up for Israel.
It was also important that many of the speakers noted that Israel is used as an excuse for anti-Semitism. Israel is attacked by Hamas rockets, Israel defends herself and then Jews in New York are attacked. Each Jew is responsible for another, a Jewish teaching that our enemies reinforce by attacking a Jew in New York when they don’t like or agree with something Israel does 6000 miles away.
I brought about 15 people from New York to the rally, and it was inspirational for us to hear from Rabbi Shlomo Noginski, the Chabad rabbi from Brighton, Mass., who was recently stabbed eight times. Thank G-d he was well enough to make the trip and speak as beautifully as he did. He made sure to keep the attacker away from 100 children that were nearby, and likely prevented what could have been a massacre.
For anyone who says rallies are not effective, I would ask them what they’re doing otherwise. Remaining silent and doing nothing is not a Jewish option. We have a responsibility to do something and to speak up. In the Soviet Jewry days, there were those who went to rallies and those who chose quiet diplomacy. But you have to pick one. Rallies – if well attended – show that people care and ensure that the Jewish community is taken seriously. Obviously, I would prefer bigger crowds but what we have in our arsenal today that we didn’t in 1987 is a way to magnify our presence through social media. Millions around the world can see the rally without traveling to Washington. Many posted the rally on social media and countless others saw the rally on their phones.
Hate against Jews is becoming acceptable and we simply cannot allow it. We must call out anti-Semitism wherever and whenever we see it. Our enemies want to scare and divide us and we must show them that whether we are Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, c
hasidic or any other affiliation – we are one and will not sit back and remain silent. Together, we will rise to the occasion and fight the disease of anti-Semitism.