November 15, 2023

Yesterday marked a historic day for our community and the entire Jewish people. Nearly 300,000 of us gathered at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for the March for Israel rally, surpassing the record set by the March for Soviet Jewry in 1987. Temple Emanu-El is proud to have played our part in this monumental event in support of Israel, demonstrating the unity and resilience of the Jewish people.

More than 50 temple members, clergy and staff boarded a bus at 6:15 am with a spirited round of singing “Am Yisrael Chai” and traveled together to the rally returning to the temple after 10:00 pm tired but renewed. Additionally, in partnership with the UJA Federation of New York, we coordinated transportation for more than 150 others, including Chabad Young Professionals and Congregation Beit Simchat Torah. This collaboration is a testament to both our diversity and shared sense of purpose.

On the journey down, Rabbi Joshua Davidson inspired us with his words: “The trip that we’re making today is an extraordinarily important one because there is strength in numbers, and people will see that the Jewish community is standing with Israel. We all come from different political perspectives, but we are all united in our support for Israel and its right to live in peace. And we are all united in our defiance of anti-Semitism here at home.” The rally was a show of solidarity and a declaration that we stand united for Israel. “Coming together like this sends a message to the wider world that neither Israel nor the Jewish people will be bullied,” Rabbi Davidson added.

Our members, old and young, echoed this sentiment. Paul Burg, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor who traveled with us to the rally, said, “I survived fascism. I survived communism. I love Israel.” His presence was a powerful reminder to all of us of our people’s history and our enduring spirit. Dina Mann, Director of Emanu-El Downtown, shared her experience of spending the day with Paul, saying, “Today I joined nearly 300,000 supporters of Israel and the Jewish People…to see Paul cry tears of joy when he saw so many young people coming together draped in Israeli flags is something I will never forget.”

At the heart of the rally were the impassioned and inspiring speakers who captivated the crowd with their messages of unity, resilience and hope, including Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Mike Johnson, Natan Sharansky, journalist Van Jones, family members of Israeli hostages in Gaza, and more.  President of Israel Issac Herzog spoke to the crowd virtually from the Kotel (Western Wall in Jerusalem), concluding his speech powerfully by saying, “Once again in Jewish history, we demand, let our people go!”

On the return, members shared reflections from the day. Kyle Satterfield, leader in the temple’s Young Members Circle, described the rally as a “life-changing experience.” His words echoed the feelings of many: “Raising my voice and singing, crying and dancing with Jews of all stripes on the National Mall in support of a common goal made me feel more a part of K’lal Yisrael than ever.”

One march participant said, “I was moved when Natan Sharansky said that what sustained him during his nine years in a Soviet prison was knowing that the Jewish community was praying and fighting for his release. It made me have hope that our actions are sustaining the hostages in Gaza today.”

Echoing the feelings of so many of us, Peg Watson said, “I’m so proud that Temple Emanu-El is connecting me to the wider world in a meaningful way and making the global personal.”

Mike Witman, our Director of Lifelong Learning, reflected, “At the March for Israel, I witnessed something truly extraordinary. Amid collective trauma, we found solace in one powerful word: Tikvah, hope.”

All who were present in person and online will carry the spirit of the rally to their communities and congregations back home. Temple Emanu-El and the Jewish people will continue to stand in hope, strength and solidarity with Israel, and for peace with all who seek it.