This Thanksgiving, we are reflecting on how our community comes together to support each other through difficult times.
On November 14, nearly 300,000 people from all over the world, marched together on the mall in Washington DC to show support for the Jewish people and Israel.
Natasha and Dan, two friends from the Hebrew Helpers community, participated in the march and shared their experiences.
On November 14, I joined 170 students and faculty from my conservative day school, Golda Och Academy in West Orange, NJ to travel to Washington DC for the national rally in support of Israel. As we all have read, it was a historic moment for Jewish Americans with about 300,000 in attendance. However, it was also historic in the sense that it brought together so many different types of Jews, from different walks of life, to support Israel and each other. The rally brought out these different constituencies in full force and literally showed Kol Yisrael Aravim Ze la Zeh, that all of Israel is responsible for one another.
There was great unity on the stage with politicians of different stripes united in their messages of support. There were famous Israeli singers who connected with American attendees. It was an atmosphere of support and love for one another and Israel. After so many weeks of non-stop listening to constant difficult news reports, it was refreshing to be able to hang with fellow Jews, to walk the streets and the DC metro with Israeli flags draped around ourselves, to express our pride in our heritage and not have to hide it or downplay it. We were free to be ourselves as Jews without threats or intimidation. It was like being at a Yom Haatzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) celebration with all of our relatives. It was especially heartwarming to see so many young people coming out that day. Many of them are on the front lines at university and they desperately needed this day to feel supported and loved. My hope is that this experience of unity stays with each of us a lifetime.
Natasha Cooper-Benisty holds a sign honoring her cousin – March for Israel, November 14, 2023.
A week before the event in Washington, as details were just starting to emerge about a rally to support Israel, my wife and I received an email from our son’s school that they were exploring the possibility of taking a group of seniors to DC. My son called and said he really wanted to go. It was another in a line of seemingly never-ending unplanned expenses, but I told him – we’ll make it work. After I got off the phone, I thought to myself – I want to go too! I needed to go. For weeks since October 7, I had felt helpless. Short of making donations and incessantly checking Israeli news sites, I struggled to be connected to the people of Israel. And here was an opportunity to show up for them and have my voice heard. So I just did it – I bought a ticket.
The event on the Mall was remarkable. Far exceeding the initial expectations, nearly 300,000 supporters of Israel flooded the capital – singing, chanting, waving signs, and frankly just being together. A friend deemed the event the “Superbowl of Jewish Geography” and he wasn’t wrong. But as social media posts following the event showed me, for every old classmate and camp friend I ran into, there were ten there that I didn’t even see. And while there were so many thousands of people I had never met, it felt like I knew them – for we all shared something in common. Gone, if only for a few hours, were the differences in Jewish observance and political affiliation. While we were on the Mall we were all just on Team Israel. We all prayed for the safety of our soldiers and the return of the hostages. And we all benefited from seeing that we were not alone in the face of the most visible antisemitism in most of our lifetimes.
At the Dulles airport, less than 24 hours from when I had left LA, I chatted with other Angelenos who had made the trek. We all were returning invigorated. We are charged up to continue our support and filled with the feeling that in fact Am Yisrael Chai – the Jewish people lives and will continue to live!
Dan Messinger is the owner of Bibi’s Bakery in Los Angeles and a longtime friend to Hebrew Helpers.
Photo from the March for Israel, November 14, 2023 courtesy of Dan Messinger.
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