Reflections on the March for Israel in Washington, DC by Student to Student Program Director Fawn Chapel

Photo by Fawn Chapel

 

I’m not a person who likes attending rallies, but since Israelis are feeling so isolated, I pushed through my hesitation and flew to DC last week to be at the “March for Israel,” held at the National Mall. Because of a surge in anti-Israel sentiment and a steep rise in antisemitism, the Jewish Federations of North America put together the rally. Estimates are that close to 300,000 people (which is equivalent to about 4% of the U.S. Jewish population) came together to attend, showing support for Israel, demanding the immediate release of the hostages taken by Hamas, and denouncing antisemitism. Another 250,000 people attended via livestream.

My Uber driver told me he hadn’t experienced so much traffic and such substantial numbers of people since Inauguration Day. Walking through the large crowd, I was moved to see the diversity of the people attending; every branch of Judaism, communities from across the country, multiple age groups, and many schools, synagogues, and organizations were represented. We often hear about and feel the division among Jewish people, but that day I experienced our unity. I’m sad that too often it’s adversity that makes us realize that we are one people. I’m proud that our Student to Student participants demonstrate Jewish unity with every presentation, by representing different branches of Judaism and so beautifully working together to demonstrate the diversity of Jews in our communities and to discuss our shared history and values.

I was so inspired by the words of two college students, Sabrina Soffer of George Washington University and Noa Fay of Columbia University, who will not be bullied into silence. With so much antisemitism on college campuses, I’m heartened that our STS participants have developed tools, like these young women, to speak proudly of who they are as Jews.

Multiple speakers mentioned the complexity of the war and the hardships of the Palestinians, who are victims of the conflict because Hamas sacrifices its own people’s lives to its murderous ideology. I believe it is so important to empathize with all those who suffer at the hands of such terrorists and to realize that our enemies are not the Palestinian people themselves; rather our shared enemy is Hamas. Debra Messing, for example, spoke of the hurt we feel for the innocent Palestinians used as human shields by Hamas, and expressed a hope for a “free and flourishing Gaza,” someday free of Hamas.

The families of the hostages spoke of the constant torment in their lives and the anguish and worry about their loved ones in captivity. Their words and their pleas moved so many of us to tears. Being part of the crowd, I felt a collective grief as well as a sense of belonging and purpose.

In a time when so many of us feel powerless, attending the rally gave me a measure of hope and a feeling that we are not alone. I believe Student to Student gives our participants a strong understanding that they are not alone, and they are not powerless. They can make a difference … and they do.

By Fawn Chapel

Be The Narrative – Student to Student Program Director

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