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Stand for Survival

A Firsthand Account of the March for Israel in Washington, D.C. on November 14
Sruly Meyer

Living outside Israel after October 7 is something of an enigma. To say it’s hard might feel like trivializing what it’s like for those living there right now. From speaking to the friends I have living there, it’s clear that this has changed their daily lives in every way imaginable. As someone living in America, our hearts and minds are with our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, yet it’s just not the same. We watch as the rest of our fellow Americans are still busy with “normal” everyday life.

I speak for so many when I say that there are times we feel like we are watching from the sidelines. Our hearts break with every video and every announcement of a soldier who was killed in action. We are enraged from every video we see of anti-Israel protests. In fact, while in Israel they are dealing with the very real and day-to-day threats of war, we are also feeling some of those effects in the form of having to add security to our schools and shuls. We wonder with every face that passes us on the street, do they also hate us?

There can be an air of disconnect when living outside Israel, seeing the world move on in many ways, and yet we are here, feeling the effects of what our friends and family feel in Israel. In Israel though, it seems as the entire country has been mobilized in some way to fight and secure Israel’s safety. What can we do living so far away, and how can we help? Of course, as you will read in this magazine as well as see on your feeds, there are so many raising funds, holding benefits, and creating awareness in different ways.

When it was announced there would be a major march for Israel on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, I knew I had to be there. Early estimates were small, but as word spread, so did the reaction across America. Within 24 hours of the rally announcement, it was very difficult to find flights from South Florida, where I live, because people booked tickets so quickly. I began receiving texts and forwards on my chats about chartered planes, buses, and even ride sharing inquiries to drive. This scene played out across the country.

My daughter had asked if she could also come, but I didn’t want her to miss school, and I wasn’t sure what to expect at the march, so I first said no. Once she told me why she wanted to go, I had to say yes. She told me, “I see everything that is happening in Israel, I see the protests against us, and I feel like I’m not doing anything. I think being together with so many others like us and making our voices heard will be an important moment, and I want to be a part of it.

I think this really reflects what most of us have been feeling the last month, and so I wanted to share for those that could not make it what being there was like.

We got up at 4:00 A.M to prepare for our trip and boarded a 6:30 A.M. flight that went through Philadelphia, connecting to Reagan Airport in Washington. I was sitting in an aisle seat, across from a middle-aged man, with his own daughter, about the same age as mine. He was not wearing a yarmulke, but I got a sense that he was Jewish. He looked over at it me, with my yarmulke and beard, and asked me, “You going to the rally, too?” When I nodded, he held out his hand and told me, “Hi, I’m Orik, I live in West Palm Beach.”

After talking for a while, I asked him if he wanted to put on tefillin, being the Chabad raised person that I am, but he declined. He told me he hasn’t prayed in many years, and he is not religious. He moved from Israel in the 90s, and has many strong opinions on the government there, and the state of world Jewry. I listened, and we had a very friendly conversation about being Jewish, and why he decided to fly from Florida to this march in Washington.

He said something that would become even clearer once I walked on to the National Mall. “You and I are brothers, no matter what we may disagree on. I am Jewish, and we must stand together.” We ended up taking the Metro after we landed, together with thousands of other Jewish people who landed at that airport and said our goodbyes as we entered the march.

I didn’t know what to expect before we arrived, but one thing became clear right away. Every single person there was united. Toward the end of the event, they announced that approximately 290,000 people attended the march. However, most of us believe that number was larger, as that number only included those who entered through a specific entrance that required wristbands.
I was amazed that the crowd was so diverse in appearance. It was clear there were Jews of all kinds there. It’s interesting to note that this attack came on Simchas Torah, the conclusion of Sukkos, when we learned that the arbaah minim represent every type of Jew, and we bring them together because this is what true unity is. Here I was standing shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of thousands of Jews, from Lakewood to Louisiana. From knitted small kippahs with sports logos on them to Jewish men with hats and jackets and beards. From women with purple hair to women with long sheitels.

The signs people held expressed a range of viewpoints from the most liberal to the most conservative. As speakers from both Democratic and Republican backgrounds voiced support for Israel, everyone cheered, regardless of their political differences. One moment that stood out for me was when Van Jones, a non-Jewish, political commentator on CNN who tends to skew to the left spoke. In some ways his speech was especially meaningful, because he reflected something we need to see more: support for Israel from sources where it has been traditionally scarce.
To document the day, I made my way through the crowds with my camera, video stands, and wires hoping I would not upset anyone, yet each person smiled and said, “No problem.” We were part of something bigger than just who we identify with. We weren’t yeshivish, chassidish, or Chabad. We weren’t conservative, liberal, or unaffiliated. We were all affiliated, together as one.
One person commented that this was the largest gathering of Jewish people outside of Israel since Har Sinai. Something about that comparison felt so accurate. We know from our painful history that every time the Jewish nation has suffered, there was also sinas chinam involved. We know the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed both times due to sinas chinam. When we stand together, united, we are stronger.

I saw signs from groups proudly displaying where they came from, not limited to New York or Miami, Houston, Baltimore, Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta, Cleveland and so many more! At the airport on the way back I saw a group of roughly 60 that came in from Milwaukee. City by city, state by state, they came from all over!
Something else that stood out for me was the absolute kindness shown by all. One officer remarked that he had received more thank yous during that rally than throughout his entire career in service.

There was no violence, no flag burning, and in fact, we saw just as many American flags as Israeli ones. That’s something you won’t see at pro-Palestinian rallies, but we want to express our appreciation for this great country that has stood by us! Every politician that spoke told us they have our back, that America has our back. We were promised the funds Israel needs to keep defending itself, and we were assured that we had the right to our defense.
The March for Israel was a once in a generation moment to stand together and show the world what we are made of. I know a massive kiddush Hashem was made, and I know that the world had to witness it.

Our work is not yet done. Not all of us have the resources to travel to Israel and help out on the ground, but we must continue to be a shining light and an example to the world. On that day we marched for Israel, and it was a promise that no matter where we come from or what our Judaism looks like, we are brothers and sisters! We are here to stay. Am Yisrael Chai!

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