Together with 290,000 other humans, mostly Jews, my daughter Nomi, my husband and I, with the Cleveland Federation delegation, rallied for Israel on Tuesday, November 13th.
The rally was historic, being the largest gathering of Jews in the US ever, and we felt the thrill of creating history, of being a part of something unprecedented.
It was electric, walking the two miles from the Kennedy Center, where our Federation had gotten permission for us to park, in magnificent 60-degree sunshine, joining up in increasingly growing throngs with other Jews all decked in blue and white, from Boston, Cincinnati, LA, Chicago, and so many other places, carrying signs of solidarity with Israel and proudly wearing our flags whipping across our backs like so many Jewish Supermen and Wonder Women.
The rally was also loving. The overarching feeling on the National Mall on Tuesday was of some overpowering family reunion, all the relatives you knew and all the ones you didn’t know, the weird ones, the ones who voted for the other guy, the black sheep of the family, all coming together and feeling our cumulative power as a nation of brothers and sisters. Don’t mess with us, we wordlessly proclaimed. We are one. We are together. We are united. Love is stronger than hate.
Let me tell you what the rally was not. It was not a “demonstration” (yes, the Wall Street Journal got that wrong). It was not a “protest.” There was no call for violence, no hate. There was no ripping down of American flags – quite the opposite, there were many symbols of American patriotism, we sang the national anthem (with the Maccabeats!), and many of the speakers referenced their gratitude for our great country and the freedoms and democracy us American Jews are so grateful for. There was no anti-Palestinian rhetoric, anywhere. There was no violence. There was no pushing or shoving.
One girl behind me looked like she was going to faint, so I encouraged her to sit down, and before you knew it she had a gaggle of Jewish mother hens offering her water, Kind bars, a sandwich, and fruit. When she seemed a bit better, I looked at her mother and couldn’t help engaging in the oldest form of Jewish geography: “Do I know you from somewhere? You look familiar.” She told me her name was Robin and that she was from Teaneck, New Jersey.
“Oh my gosh,” I said, “I was a scholar-in-residence at Young Israel in Teaneck this past weekend. Maybe that’s where I know you from.”
She looked at me again and said, “Hey! We had Shabbat lunch together!” And so we had. This is the nature of the Jewish people. Everyone is my neighbor’s uncle, my cousin’s friend, I went to camp with your sister, I was on an Israel trip with you.
The rally felt like camp, actually. As we were gathering in the Beachwood Place parking lot at midnight on Monday night, with our pillows and blankets and backpacks and snacks, boarding the coach buses that would take us to DC, I kept stopping and hugging my friends, excited and nervous for our upcoming adventure. “This feels like the first day of camp!” I said.
But really the whole experience felt more like the last night of camp, when you’ve experienced so much together, shared, cried, laughed, hugged, gotten dirty together, swam together, eaten countless meals, celebrated so many Shabbats. It felt like I didn’t want to say goodbye, didn’t want to leave, didn’t want the electricity to fade.
I envisioned God, looking down at His beautiful nation, gathering together in the biggest and most diverse family reunion we’ve ever had, with tears in His eyes, overwhelmed, so to speak, with nachas, from us, his complicated, opinionated, loud, proud, beautiful, devoted, unified, peaceful and loving people. He is so proud of us. And so am I. So am I. Am yisrael chai.