November 30, 2023
By Daphne Lazar Price, AJC Washington Board Member
I was in Israel when the war broke out. My spouse and I flew for the holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah to spend time with our children who live in Israel. The first part of our trip was pure joy. And then October 7th brought us fear, sadness, and uncertainty. Yet during those dark days, everyone stepped up to support one another in small and big ways. Due to many cancellations, our trip back to the U.S. was significantly delayed. I don’t like to say that I “got stuck” in Israel — in truth, it was a privilege to be there, with my people and to witness and play a small part in the extraordinary acts of chesed, kindness, taking place all around.
While in Israel, NBC4 interviewed me about what it was like to be there. I reiterated that despite the situation there was no place safer in the world than Israel to be a Jewish person. Once we returned I felt like I was straddling two very different worlds, with one foot back in Israel and the other planted here. And when the news anchor came by to do a follow up story about what it was like to be back in the States, I don’t remember much else about what I said, other than “we are a people of faith who need to be with our people.”
So while I looked for meaning connections while attending synagogue services and lectures with hostage families and setting up baby strollers and an “empty table” (to raise awareness for the hostages), it wasn’t until I received notice about the “March for Israel” that I finally felt a surge of excitement.
With roughly a week’s notice, my family instantly went into action. One daughter created original sweatshirts for friends and family to wear at the rally. The other strung bracelets that read “Am Yisrael Chai.” My spouse and I reached out to friends and family to find out who would be traveling to town and to coordinate meeting up.
On the morning of the rally, we draped ourselves in our gear and headed to the Metro. I confess to being a bit nervous about local law enforcement being able to manage crowds and protect our safety at the rally, on the surrounding streets and on public transit. Instead, everyone was cordial – even jovial. (I even read comments that the police officers on site had never received more “thank yous.”)
Arriving at the rally felt like being welcomed into a 300,000 group hug. There were large swaths of Jewish people from every denomination. I’m told that Yeshiva University alone sent 40+ buses! Of course there were actual hugs too – some from people I hadn’t seen for years. From elected officials sharing their support for Israel and the American Jewish community, “hostage” families raising awareness, to college students experiencing antisemitism on campus to allied voices, virtually every speech from the podium hit the right note. The music of the Maccabeats, Matisyahu, Ishai Ribo, and Omer Adam were simply uplifting. It felt like a family reunion of sorts – and it was the best of the best showing in support of Israel, and equally or more so, of American Jewry.
As I left the rally, I reminded myself that rallies are a means to another means to an end.
Yes, this rally was important and feel-good for all the reasons: coming together, getting our message out, bringing hope and inspiration alike for attendees and onlookers. Support for Israel. Support for each other. Keeping the hostages top of mind. Jewish pride. And more.
But the rally didn’t eradicate antisemitism. It didn’t end the war in Israel. It didn’t bring home any of those who were kidnapped.
I am a firm believer that when it comes to rallies, the work actually begins when you get home. There are a number of ways we can demonstrate support for American Jewry while also showing support for Israel. Each of us could take on an action step which could include writing an op-ed, delivering a speech at a school or synagogue, calling an elected official to thank him/her for their support (or to get them to take action), and of course, to contribute to the organizations that are doing the work on the ground.