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290,000 Attendees Gather at the Washington National Mall in largest Pro-Israel Gathering in History

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Reporting  and Photos By  Lieba Nesis

Cathartic, cleansing and camaraderie are all conjured when describing Tuesday November 13, 2023-a historic day in Jewish history where 290,000 Jews came out to say “Never Again”, “Am Yisrael Chai”, “No Ceasefire, and “Bring Them Home.” Anti-Jewish outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN declared the throngs numbered thousands however, the massive event will forever be etched in the annals of Jewish life as record-breaking. Angry, scapegoated, and dejected is the global Jewish sentiment after Hamas’s horrific October 7th genocide where 1,200 civilians were slaughtered in their bedrooms, watching a music festival and enjoying the conclusion of a protracted three week Jewish holiday.

Israelis who had been awaiting Simchat Torah for some much needed joy and rest were instead met with torture, rape and violence. Expectations of an incensed world were dashed when silence was quickly accompanied by hatred with Black Lives Matter and Alicia Keys applauding the murderous paragliders of Hamas. Harvard University was no better as 31 Student groups fully blamed Israel on the night of the attack. Equally disappointing, celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Ben Affleck, Brad Cooper, Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Lopez called on Israel to lay down her arms in a ceasefire before mounting a defense. 240 hostages ranging from 9 months to 87 years old lie hidden in Hamas tunnels undoubtedly victimized and subject to unknown horrors and yet the tearing down of posters has become a university pastime.

The New York Times, Reuters, CNN and the Associated Press conveniently had 6 photographers on location early that Saturday October 7th morning-while continually decrying Israel’s attacks on Gaza with morbid pictures of dying Palestinian children-while graphic Jewish suffering remains hidden. And so largely orthodox crowds from California, Houston, Miami, Boston, Detroit, New York and Israel arrived to hold hands on a gripping weekday afternoon-skipping work, school and all other obligations.

 

The Department of Homeland Security labeled the march, which was planned in one week, a “Level 1” security event that which is reserved for heightened threats such as the Super Bowl and World Series, requiring cyber risk assessments and venue screenings-however, security didn’t seem tighter than usual. Such was the enthusiasm to attend that two attendees were led out in stretchers due to the blazing sun and excessive crowds.

North Shore Hebrew Academy students

 

The day began with early morning prayers in front of the White House. By 12 PM the swelling crowds could no longer be contained as hundreds of overbooked buses arranged by federations, schools, synagogues, Israeli expatriate groups and Jewish communities arrived from their 7 AM trek for the 1 PM rally. Missing were 900 people from the Jewish Federation of Detroit whose anti-israel bus drivers staged a walk-out leaving them stranded at Dulles airport for nearly the entirety of the event.

The day was hot and cold, but that was just the temperature the feeling in the arena was all feverish longing-longing to be reunited with our hostages, to live the guileless lives we enjoyed before October 7th and to be immune from the burgeoning antisemitism surrounding us. The first speaker was Tenafly High School hostage Edan Alexander’s 17-year-old sister Mika who spoke of her wish to be reunited with her 19-year-old IDF serving brother who was snatched from the Gaza Strip 39 days ago.

Her unknowing laughter manifested her innocence as her parents obviously shielded the teenager from her brother’s current torment-Hamas is particularly sadistic to male soldiers. Also in attendance were actors Tovah Feldshuh, Debra Messing and Michael Rapaport. Where were the Hollywood A-listers who came out in droves for Black Lives Matter such as Ariana Grande, Timothee Chalamet, Billie Eilish and Harry Styles?

YU students sing

 

Remember when Josh Kushner was casually spotted at the anti-Trump Washington 2017 March-no such luck here. Why has it only been Jewish luminaries such as Amy Schumer, Jessica Seinfeld and Gal Gadot utilizing their social media to advocate for Israel. CNN commentator Van Jones, one of the few black men to show up for Israel, expressed his outrage at antisemitism while peppering it with denouncing Palestinian suffering. Jones declared himself a “peace guy” and remarked “no more bombs on the people of Gaza” as the crowd angrily shot back “no ceasefire.” I was hoping for some better surprise guests-covert Israel supporters who might use this opportunity to come out of the closet-to no avail! I was equally disappointed that no speakers condemned antisemitic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and Representative Ilhan Olmer.

California students from Shalhevet High School

There were disappointingly no speeches from massacre survivors except for Natan Sharansky who suffered 9 years in the Russian gulag during the 70’s for the sole crime of being Jewish. He noted that despite languishing in jail the knowledge of public support aided his survival. We heard from hostage Omer Neutra’s mother, Orna, who described her six foot two son as a dual US-Israeli citizen who loved basketball and chose to serve his country in Gaza before heading to college. “From a place of deep pain, we hold strong for you Omer,” declared his mother as the lugubrious crowd chanted “Bring Them Home.” She implored the spellbound crowd to keep speaking out and show the same warmth her son did to all those he encountered.

Columbia student Noa Fay

There were no shortage of politicians as Chuck Schumer who repeatedly praised himself for being the first to lead a recent delegation to Israel said, “we stand with you and we will not rest until you get all the assistance you need.” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries was equally passionate declaring “we stand together with the Jewish community in Israel, we stand together with the Jewish community in America…

We stand together in the effort to crush antisemitism. We stand together in an effort to bring home the hostages… and to ensure that America will always be a safe space for the Jewish community in every single zip code.” US House Speaker Mike Johnson received the most plaudits as he declared the calls for a ceasefire “outrageous” and said “Israel will only cease their counter-offensive when Hamas ceases to be a threat to the Jewish state.” Biden’s antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt told the crowd the government stands “shoulder to shoulder against Jew Hatred.” Further remarking that “hate and violence against any member of society because of who they are is un-American and wrong.” President Isaac Herzog spoke to attendees from the Western Wall as he hailed this march as one giant “mishpacha” (family) and thanked President Biden and the bipartisan Congress for “their moral clarity and bold actions.”

Actor Michael Rapaport

Evangelist Pastor John Hagee waxed poetic as he implored the crowd to chant “Israel you are not alone.” He warned those that seek to justify the slaughter of Israelis that Israel is not merely a state but “the apple of God’s eye, the shining city on the Hill, and G-d’s first born son.” While most buses required attendees to leave at 2:30 PM due to crowded Metro stations and unforgiving traffic the best was undeniably saved for last. Black, Native American Columbia University student Noa Fay said she would not be silenced as she critiqued the 100 Columbia University professors advocating for the destruction of Israel. Fay said, “we are the Jews of the Diaspora, this is how we fight. We fight loudly and peacefully. We are far from helpless, we are far from hopeless.” Impassioned actor Michael Rapaport said he he never felt prouder to be a Jew-a sentiment reiterated by many. The magic concluded with Israeli superstars Omer Adam and Ishay Ribo who have been entertaining wounded soldiers and IDF combatants non-stop since October 7th.

Omer Adam with three Zaka volunteers and Ishay Ribo

 

This afternoon the American crowd was treated to “Vehi Sheamda” and their hit “Halev Sheli” as they were joined by three Zaka volunteers who had collected the remains of hundreds of slaughtered Israelis-whose distraught faces said it all. As I exited at 4:30 PM I bumped into 40 High School Californians from Yeshivat Shalhevet who flew in at 6 AM and were leaving 10:45 PM for 16 hours of unity. “Was it worth it”, I inquired? To which they simultaneously responded “are you joking this was the greatest day of our lives.”

 

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