The signup link to get a seat on one of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore’s buses headed to the March for Israel in Washington, D.C., filled up within 12 hours of going live.
Ultimately, nearly 1,000 people headed to D.C. on The Associated’s 20 buses on Tuesday. Other Baltimore Jewish organizations, such as synagogues and schools, sent an additional 40 buses, while other Baltimoreans also came via car and Metro to join the hundreds of thousands of people from across the country who packed onto the National Mall.
The rally, which was spearheaded by Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, had three primary objectives, according to the event organizers: showing solidarity with Israel, demanding the immediate release of the hostages being held by Hamas and condemning the rise in antisemitic violence and harassment.
Organizers said that 290,000 people attended.
The representation from Baltimore at the rally was “outstanding,” said Michelle Gordon, chief of staff for The Associated.
“It’s so beautiful to see how much people care about Israel and wanted to show their support,” Gordon said.
Against a backdrop of rising anti-Israel sentiment in the international community and a surge in antisemitism in the United States and around the world, individuals representing different communities, organizations, schools and synagogues gathered on the National Mall under a clear blue sky and took part in the March for Israel.
“It has been amazing to see such strong interest from so many parts of our community,” said Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “I think that Baltimore is excited to join with so many other communities from across the country to make a strong statement in support of Israel, calling for the safe return of the hostages and against the surging acts of antisemitism and hate.”
The crowd began arriving early, with many people taking their places on the National Mall hours before the rally was scheduled to begin. Amid a sea of blue and white, attendees of all ages waved Israeli flags, held up signs of support and stood proudly with Israel as a range of speakers addressed the crowd.
Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg arrived at the National Mall around the time the gates opened at 10 a.m. Around 40 or 50 members of Beth Am, the synagogue he serves, attended the rally, he said. Burg took the train to D.C., while many of his congregants came on buses organized by The Associated, he noted.
“I was in Israel just a couple of weeks ago on a solidarity and learning mission, witnessing some of the horrors in the communities in the Gaza envelope,” Burg said. “I felt it was important to show up and be present, and I felt much the same way today showing up and being present and marching for Israel’s right to defend itself and against antisemitism and demanding the release of 240 hostages.”
Abby Snyder, the director of government relations at BJC, went to the rally with her co-workers, Kate McDonald and Megan Brantley.
“It felt really important for me as someone who grew up in the Jewish community in the Greater D.C. area to be a part of this national movement to show support for Israel, especially at a time when things continue to be so polarized,” Snyder said.
The speakers included families of some American hostages being held by Hamas; bipartisan congressional leaders; interfaith allies and Natan Sharansky, the renowned human rights activist, former political prisoner in the Soviet Union and former Israeli government official. Actress and advocate Debra Messing and U.S. Special Envoy to Combat Antisemitism Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt were among the other event speakers.
The event also featured musical performances by Israeli music stars Ishay Ribo and Omer Adam; the world famous acapella group, the Maccabeats; and Jewish reggae singer, Matisyahu. Before the main program, there was a pre-show rally for students.
President Isaac Herzog of Israel addressed the crowd via videoconference from the Western Wall. “The people of Israel are eternal, and no one will break us,” Herzog said. “‘Never again’ is now.”
“Since Oct. 7, we have been a people under siege,” William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents, said in an interview. “We have been brutally attacked in Israel and those attacks have continued here in the United States, through the tsunami of Jew-hatred and antisemitic attacks against the Jewish people and demonstrations by Hamas sympathizers that glorify and minimize the barbarity of Hamas. And it’s important for the American people and American Jewry to stand up in the face of this situation and speak out and to speak out as one. The American people are unified in their support for Israel, and the American Jewish community is unified in its support for Israel.
“By speaking out together, tens and tens of thousands of us on the National Mall, we spoke with one voice saying we support Israel and its war against the most terrorist army, we condemn antisemitism in all of its forms and we demand the immediate return of the hostages,” he added.
Citing the rally’s timing, Daroff noted that the organizers chose Nov. 14 because Congress was in session and considering emergency supplemental legislation that includes more than $14 billion to help Israel combat Hamas.
“We wanted to ensure that when we thanked Congress and asked Congress to continue to support Israel, that Congress was actually in session and there and listening. And so, the timing was purposeful and impactful with Congress in session,” he said.
In an interview, Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of JFNA, noted the need to thank the Biden administration and Congress for their strong support of Israel, particularly since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, a sentiment that Daroff also mentioned.
“I believe that everyone understands the importance of American support of Israel in its effort to eradicate this terrorist threat and restore safety and security to its people … We want to say thank you to them. And we know they’re hearing from contrary voices. It’s very important for them to see — to visually see — the fact that what they’re doing is supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans and certainly of the Jewish community,” he said.
Noting the pain that the Jewish community feels as it’s been more than a month since Hamas kidnapped approximately 240 hostages and dragged them back to Gaza, Fingerhut said, “We know that the American government is paying attention, but we want to make sure that the world doesn’t forget.”
Fingerhut and Daroff both talked about the significance of the crowd size and the importance of having so many people attend the March for Israel.
“We have to be counted. This isn’t something you could sit home and watch on Zoom. This is a moment to stand up and be counted and to be here,” Fingerhut said. “There was only one place to be on Tuesday, Nov. 14, if you care about Israel and you care about America’s role in the world, and that is on the National Mall.”
“This is on par with other major events that the Jewish community has hosted at seminal times in our history. And I refer to the 1987 march for Soviet Jewry and then more recently in 2002, the rally for Israel during the Second Intifada,” Daroff said. “This was a very moving event, with tens and tens of thousands of Jews and non-Jews standing together in solidarity. And this was a moment in history that we’ll look back on and remember, and people will ask, where were you?
“There’s an incredible amount of anxiety in our community, of people wanting to speak out, of people shocked that our erstwhile allies are not our allies, that they’re out there minimizing and rationalizing Hamas terror and this gave us the opportunity to come together as one people with our real allies — with members of the Christian community, the African American community and the Latino community — who are standing with us, who are not prevaricating, and seeing that is incredibly fulfilling. And I think that will give us the energy together that we need, as one Jewish community, as one American community, to walk together during these troubled times,” Daroff added.
For Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of Anti-Defamation League, having so many people there was vital. “It is energizing and it is heartening, but more than anything, it’s important,” he said in an interview. “It’s important to see how many Jews and non-Jews … people from all walks of life came to our capital to say ‘never again’ and to remind the elected officials and the people watching at home that this is where the majority of the country is, right here, right now.”
The Combat Antisemitism Movement, a global coalition dedicated to fighting antisemitism, organized its vast network and funded more than 8,000 Jews (200 buses) from across the United States to attend the rally.
“We are at a moment in history that it’s important to be together … The things that we have seen in southern Israel from Hamas have been shocking … I don’t think that anyone would have imagined that you’re going to see a modern pogrom on Jews in 2023. And this is what happened … it shocked everyone,” CAM CEO Sacha Roytman Dratwa said in an interview.
After noting that it was critical for the Jewish community to be in Washington, D.C., to thank the government for standing with Israel and for its efforts to combat antisemitism, Roytman Dratwa focused on the dangerous anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric at pro-Palestinian rallies and on college campuses.
“It’s our time to digest what we’ve seen and to understand that every slogan that we hear on the streets means what they say … When we hear, ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,’ and other slogans like ‘free Palestine,’ at the end of the day, they’re really touching on the life of every student on campus, of every American, and of every citizen of the world,” he said.
“When it’s so global, at certain moments, people need to be together … Now it’s time to be together, to show how powerful we are, that we have the energy to fight back, that we have the liberty to share our opinion that we are not afraid,” he added.
The event organizers viewed the event as a success and were heartened by the large crowd.
“The event today showed the strength and resilience of the Jewish people,” Daroff said. “That notwithstanding doubts and headlines and the like, the fact that tens of thousands of Jews came out today to express their support for Israel, their opposition to antisemitism and their demand for the release of the hostages speaks to that resilience,” Daroff said.
Gordon noted that this march, while important, is not the end of the Jewish community’s work.
“It is just so important for us to stand up for Israel during this time, and this is one way of demonstrating to the world that the Jewish people are in solidarity to support Israel and stand up for what is right,” she said. “But there are other things people can do, like posting on social media and emailing their congressman. There are things to do, and we will continue to do those things as the war evolves and as the crisis continues.”
Selah Maya Zighelboim and Jillian Diamond contributed reporting to this story.