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Israel march: COVER

‘Bring them home’: Thousands gather on National Mall to advocate for Israel and release of Israeli hostages

Attendees from across the country gather to condemn antisemitism and vocalize support for Israel

Thousands gathered on the National Mall on Nov. 14 to show their support for Israel following Hamas attacks on Oct. 7 and in the resulting war. 

The March for Israel website stated four goals for the march: for “all Americans to come together in solidarity with the people of Israel, to demonstrate our commitment to America’s most important ally in the Middle East, to condemn the rising trend of antisemitic violence and harassment, and to demand that every hostage be immediately and safely released.” 

The March for Israel was funded and organized by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which are collections of many smaller organizations and main donors for the event, according to the march’s website. 

The march featured speakers such as Israeli President Isaac Herzog, members of Congress, Israeli singers, activists and relatives of hostages that were, or still are, being held by Hamas.

Alana Zeitchik, whose cousins were taken hostage, spoke to the crowd. “It doesn’t need to be political to share in my grief or in the anguish that the Israeli people are feeling,” Zeitchik said.

Throughout the march, attendees chanted “bring them home” and many carried posters with pictures of the hostages. 

Prior to the march, the Israel on Campus Coalition offered microgrant applications to help supply funding for students to attend the march, and supporters could apply for stipends to cover travel expenses. The application portal will reopen on Jan. 1 “to resume grants for pro-Israel initiatives on campus.” According to the Coalition, local Hillel, Chabad and Federation chapters also provided transportation for students.

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AU at the march

American University Hillel joined efforts to help students travel to the National Mall for the march. Members of AU Hillel said they had different reasons for attending the march, but all who were interviewed said they craved a feeling of community that they hoped to find on the National Mall. 

Ethan Kassar, a freshman in the School of Public Affairs, said the United States has “seen attacks against Jews and Jewish students all over the country and all over the world.” 

“[The march] represents the opportunity for us all to come together, be a community and be united,” Kassar said. “We’re going to the National Mall to … show that anything you do, you’re not gonna be able to beat us, you can’t force us down, we are Jewish.”

Cooper Bergan, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, spent 10 months in Israel on a gap year. He said a strong connection to the people he met there motivated him to attend the march. 

“A lot of my friends from Israel and from the program are actually going to be at the rally, so I wanted to see them,” Bergan said. “As well as just supporting Israel and being one of the mass amount of people who would be there to support.”

Noam Shukrun, a freshman in SPA, said “I’ll regret it if I don’t go.” Shukrun said that all of her family is from Israel and that she “was really just going to show my support.” 

“I think just to be with a community of people who really understand,” Shukrun said. “We’re all strangers but we’re all feeling the same way.” 

Despite their shared search for community, AU Hillel students didn’t reach a consensus on feelings toward campus safety. 

“I know that I have a really good community here at Hillel. I feel pretty supported here,” Shukrun said. 

On the other hand, Kassar said he doesn’t feel safe at AU. 

“There are multiple Jewish students who have received threats or have been physically attacked or verbally attacked,” he said.

On Oct. 20, two Letts Hall room doors were vandalized with swastikas and Nazi slogans. This month, a recital poster was vandalized in Katzen with “antisemitic language and symbols.”

Many said that the march was not political. “I think … this goes a little bit beyond politics, right?” said Noam Emerson-Fleming, a sophomore in the School of International Service. “For us, as college students right now, a lot of spaces on college campuses right now aren’t really safe for Jewish students.” 

Emerson-Fleming specifically referenced a Nov. 13 protest in the SIS building in support of Palestine. 

“When SIS gets taken over, I have classes in there, you know what I mean? If I was walking to class, I can walk through a crowd. I’m a guy. Jewish women walking through a bunch of really aggressive people, like screaming, that’s not a safe environment for learning,” Emerson-Fleming said. “It’s not about Israel, it’s about the Jews.”

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On stage and in the crowd 

Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke to the crowd from a video call stating, “We, the people of Israel, are grateful to President Biden, his administration and so many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.” 

Numerous members of Congress spoke at the march. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Mike Johnson, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, New York Representative Ritchie Torres and Iowa Senator Joni Ernst all voiced their support for Israel. Schumer led the crowd in a call-and-response chant of “We stand with Israel.” 

Israeli singers Omer Adam and Ishay Ribo performed a handful of songs for the crowd. Adam performed “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem, immediately following “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Ribo’s performances included “Lashuv Habaita,” which roughly translates to “return home.” The Maccabeats, an a cappella group, also performed at the close of the event. 

Counter-demonstrators from Neturei Karta, a group of Orthodox Jews who reject Zionism and Israel, stood outside the designated gated march area. Members of the group held signs stating “Judaism rejects Zionism and the state of Israel,” and led chants of “Judaism, yes; Zionism, no. The state of Israel must go.” 

Rabbi Dovid Feldman, who stood with Neturei Karta, said in an interview with The Eagle, “All the actions committed by Israel to the Palestinian people is not only a crime against international law, this is a violation of Judaism and is causing so much hatred towards Jews.” 

“This endless cycle of bloodshed on all sides is because of this occupation of Palestine,” Feldman said. “This has to stop in order to bring justice to the people of Palestine and in order to bring safety and security for the Jewish people. If they are concerned about the hostages, they should admit that something was done to cause this.” 

Some of the march attendees responded to the Neturei Karta counter-demonstrators with chants, profanity and graphic images that opposed Orthodox Jewish beliefs. 

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“They claim to be Hasidim and they have this ridiculous belief that the Jewish people should not control Israel until the Messiah comes, and therefore, they’re crazy,” Benjamin Bach, an attendee from New Jersey, said. “So maybe we shouldn’t be like arguing with them, but it’s very infuriating to see that our own people are hating against us.” 

Voices from the crowd

Jonah Geller came to the march from Milwaukee and attended the march with a delegation of roughly 200 members. 

“I think it’s important for everyone to get together, to be together, and to stand united for something like this,” Geller said. “[It] doesn’t matter what your politics are. It’s about showing up. It’s about sending a message to the U.S. government.” 

16-year-old Hinda Gross came to the National Mall from Arizona.

“Even though I’m from Arizona, it’s making me worried that we’re going to be next. I don’t think anyone should have to feel that way,” she said.

Following the march, Gross hopes for a singular outcome: recognition. 

“It feels like we don’t have so much support from non-Jews, or even some Jews are in denial of what’s really happening or the fact that this is going to affect all of us today,” Gross said.

Ron Vick, who came to the march from Boston, attended the march “to demonstrate to the country that even though there may be people marching saying they’re pro-Palestinian, that there’s a lot of antisemitism behind it, and we want to show there’s a lot of support for Israel.” 

“We feel a sense of unease like lots of people do because of what we see and hear on the news,” Vick said, sharing Gross’ general sense of turmoil.

Attending alongside the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, Bryna Miller said, “I just am here to show my support.” 

Miller said she and the Jewish community feel safe in Cincinnati. 

“Former FBI people, they work with the Cincinnati police, and … all of the local law enforcement to make sure we have the top security at all our organizations, so we’re very lucky there,” Miller said.

Miller’s feelings of security were carried to D.C., as the march’s organizers provided fencing, security and emergency medical services teams, portable toilets, man lifts, jumbotrons, flooring and water bottles for attendees. 

Miller said that despite the multitude of feelings toward the march and its motivations, the numbers have an impact.

“Every person that is here makes a difference,” Miller said.

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This article was edited by Abigail Hatting, Zoe Bell, Jordan Young and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Olivia Citarella.

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