This past Tuesday, I had the honor of traveling to Washington, D.C., to participate in the March for Israel with over 2,000 friends, colleagues and community members from across the Greater Boston community.
While it was tremendous to stand in the crowd amongst almost 300,000 people, the remarkable part of Tuesday for me were the individual encounters. Each person who was there had their own story, their own purpose and their own voice to be heard. It is through those individual stories that the true breadth and depth of what we achieved on Tuesday as a North American Jewish community can be felt.
Early Tuesday morning as we unloaded a truck with our Boston signs, swag and hats outside of a hotel in D.C., I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to be greeted by one of the hotel valets, who was parking cars that morning. “I am from Ethiopia and I am Jewish,” he shared. “My family was rescued from Ethiopia by the Jewish community, and I grew up in Israel and now came to the U.S. to finish my education. Thank you for all you have done for my family and all you are doing today.” We hugged, total strangers connected by this shared experience.
Two young women from Boston came to the hotel where our delegation was meeting up. They were early because they wanted to help. I wish I could remember their names amidst the chaos of the morning, but I do remember that after they helped us assemble hats and posters and snacks for hundreds of people, one of them pulled a piece of paper from her purse and began to make a poster that listed each of the 240 names of the hostages held in Gaza. I watched as she sat and painstakingly and lovingly wrote out each name with reverence, reminding us all of our true purpose at the march.
By the time we made our way to the National Mall, we were a few hundred strong from Boston, wearing our “Boston Stands with Israel” hats and waving our flags. As we walked through the city making our way to the march, we were greeted with honking horns of support and shouts of, “Yeah, Boston!” from car windows and passersby. The energy of unity was electric across the city.
One of the most incredible things about the march was the age of participants. It felt as if half the people there were college and high school students. In an era when the next generation is often maligned for their disinterest in Jewish life and Israel, to see thousands and thousands of young people was absolutely inspiring. When a high school junior took the main stage during the student pre-show and declared, “I am proud to be Jewish,” a stranger next to me turned and said, “If that is true, I have hope for the first time in weeks.”
That was the thing about this march—even during the darkest of times for the Jewish people, we have hope. When we heard the call to action from Rachel Goldberg, mother of American Israeli hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin, we were filled with hope because there is more we can do to fight for the release of the hostages. Her hope was infectious, even as a mother suffering the most unimaginable pain; she pushed each of us to continue to fight for their release.
At the end of the march, when I could barely feel my legs from standing and walking for so many hours, I sat for a bit on a curb near the Museum of American History. Resting against my legs was the “Boston Strong, Israel Strong” sign I had been carrying all day. From the stage, I could hear The Maccabeats, a Jewish a cappella group, singing the famous song “One Day” by Matisyahu. As the healing words filled the air, every voice in the crowd was singing along. To my right was a Chabad emissary helping people put on tefillin, and he was singing. In front of me was a woman wearing a T-shirt that said “Christians Support Israel,” and she was singing. Across the street a cluster of high school girls holding their Israeli and American flags were singing. Jews and allies from every walk of life were there together, standing strong, filled with hope that tomorrow will be a better day than today. For me, that’s what the march was all about, strangers singing these lyrics together:
“Sometimes in my tears I drown
But I never let it get me down
So when negativity surrounds
I know someday, it’ll all turn around…”