Supporters from across the nation gathered near the Capitol demonstrating support for Israel in one of the largest Pro-Israel rallies in the U.S. (Photo by Kaishi Chhabra/ҹֱ)

Jewish groups descend on Washington to support Israel

Tens of thousands gathered at the National Mall in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, draped in the white and blue flag of Israel, as they came together to denounce antisemitism.

Chants of “Bring them home!” reverberated through the multitude as the Jewish community and its supporters came from all over the nation to show support for Israel. The mass gathering came in response to Hamas attacks on Oct. 7 and the hostages taken by the militant group.

The March for Israel comes as the war between Israel and Hamas enters its sixth week. The National Park Service permits initially estimated 60,000 participants, but the turnout appeared significantly larger.

Noah Beckler, an attendee from Pennsylvania, expressed the emotional impact of being embraced by his community in large numbers.

“Being here surrounded by so many people of my community, it feels incredible,” Beckler said. “I’m glad to be here supporting my community. I have family in Israel who are mourning the horrific loss of their neighbors.”

Beckler was one of many who had traveled a long distance to come in solidarity with his community. Karen Thomashow, a rabbi from a synagogue located just outside of Boston, was also in attendance with her congregation.

“There is a sense of aloneness that’s maybe tempered when we all come together, which is why it’s so inspiring to be together,” Thomashow said. “I emotionally know it, but to physically feel it, it’s actually overwhelming.”

Rabbi Karen Thomashow (to the right) with her Jewish congregation members attending March for Israel on Nov. 14, 2023 (Photo by Kaishi Chhabra/ҹֱ)

For Thomashow, she said there were three worthy causes for showing up to the nation’s capital on Tuesday with her fellow Jewish members: to stand with Israel, to stand against antisemitism, and to put pressure on the U.S. government to help bring back the hostages captured by Hamas during the October attacks.

“I think we as Jewish people feel that we don’t want to stand ideally by when the blood of our people has been spilled,” she said. “So we just want to speak out on the causes that mean something to us.”

The event, believed to be the largest pro-Israel gathering in the U.S. since the conflict began, contrasts with a recent Capitol gathering supporting Palestinian freedom, calling for an Israeli ceasefire and an end to U.S. aid to Israel.

At that time, Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, ҹֱington Post he and his group discouraged counter-protesters from attending the event, urging them to “resist any urge to counter the event or engage with protesters.”

Some demonstrators came to the March for Israel from different parts of the country in response to the “Free Palestine” protest. College student Linda Abrams, who traveled with her friends from Buffalo, New York, was one of them.

“So many Palestinians came to show their support and stand their ground,” Abrams said. “It inspired me. I’m here to stand for my people.”

Beckler, who drove from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with his family, said while he respects and supports the position of Pro-Palestinians, he felt the need to be present for his community amid the rise of antisemitic acts worldwide as the war rages on.

“They’ve made their voices heard when they were here to say “Free Palestine,” and I support that,” he said. “I just want to be here to say that I stand with Israel, with my people.”

Demonstrators hold signs “Buffalo stands with Israel” (top) and “Pittsburgh stands with Israel” (bottom) at the March for Israel rally on Nov. 14, 2023 ( Kaishi Chhabra/ҹֱ)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refuses to consider calls for a cease fire until the approximately 240 hostages captured by Hamas are safely returned home.

While the Biden administration has faced growing demands to pressure Israel into a ceasefire, the president has continued to defend Israel’s actions in the war. On Tuesday, more than of the Biden administration penned an open letter to the president calling on him to demand a ceasefire and secure the release of Israeli hostages and detained Palestinians.

In a rare show of bipartisan support, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and Republican Congressman Ritchie Torres spoke to the massive gathering near the U.S. Capitol building.

Addressing the crowd, Torres said that the U.S.-Israel relationship is not just a Democratic or Republican value but rather an American value. He also rejected the ongoing ceasefire calls for Israel.

“I want to be crystal clear: a ceasefire with a terrorist organization is not a peace agreement. It’s a death sentence for Israelis,” Rep. Torres said. “Israel has a right to defend itself, and America has a duty to stand with Israel in her struggle for survival and self-defense.”

Some attendees resonated with the New York congressman’s sentiments.

“My position of ceasefire is that when the hostages come home, I would absolutely love that,” said a protestor from Boston, who requested to be identified as Stan, citing privacy and safety concerns.

“But if I’m living in Israel right now, I want to see the hostages come back before there’s any talks about the ceasefire,” he continued.

Stan said he flew from Boston just to be at the National Mall for a couple of hours because he wanted to stand in solidarity with his Jewish community.

It’s a big political divide right now, so I just wanted to turn up and show my support,” he said. “It was incredibly important for me to be here today.”

Keith Kaplan from Teaneck, New Jersey, said he came to the rally to show the world that the United States must unite behind the sole democracy in the Middle East.

“This country has always stood behind the philosophy that the multitude needs to be heard,” he said.

Kaishi Chhabra

Kaishi is a multimedia journalist specializing in political and human rights reporting. Having a diverse cultural and global background, she is especially interested in amplifying the voices of marginalized communities such as women of color and LGBTQIA+ groups. Kaishi is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Journalism at The American University.

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