The frequently divided American Jewish community pulled off what some were referring to as a miraculous show of unity and determination on Tuesday, rallying in massive numbers on the National Mall in Washington to support Israel, oppose fast-rising antisemitism, and demand that the hostages seized by Hamas be freed.
Organizers said 290,000 people showed up on Rosh Chodesh Kislev, with another 250,000 livestreaming the event or watching on C-Span.
The New York area was well-represented, with schools, synagogues and organizations sending hundreds of busses that joined those from a wide swatch of America. Many coming from further afield flew in.
“We have indeed made history today,” William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told attendees. “This is the largest pro-Israel gathering in history.”
“Look what we can do in just over a week,” said Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America.
The rally was broadly representative, drawing people with a full spectrum of religious and political views. While a number of charedi rabbis discouraged participation, some of their followers showed up nonetheless.
“Two hundred and 30 years ago, President George Washington reassured the Jews of Newport [Rhode Island] that our new nation would give bigotry no sanction and persecution no assistance; his meaning and his message were quite specific,” Deborah Lipstadt, US special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism told the crowd. “In the United States of America, the bigotry of antisemitism must have no place, no quarter, no haven, no home.”
Echoing previous statements she has made describing the universality of antisemitism, Lipstadt described how hatred “comes at us from all political, religious and cultural directions. Groups that agree on nothing else, agree on their suspicion and hatred of Jews, and if we needed any reminder about the validity of that claim, the past five weeks have made it plain.”
Actress Debra Messing, active on Israel’s behalf following the Oct. 7 massacre, empathized with the crowd.
“I know you are in pain,” she said. “I know you are afraid. I know you feel alone and abandoned by people you thought were your friends. I know you feel misunderstood and maligned. I know because I do, too.”
Messing, who is Jewish, still urged hope, prompting cheers from the crowd.
“Looking out at all of us today, also know that we are not alone because we have each other,” she said.
Dancer, singer and actress Montana Tucker, who has 12 million followers on TikTok and Instagram, appeared wearing an Israeli flag over her shoulders.
Referring to the Shoah, which her grandparents survived, she said that young people must choose whether to remain silent and “let it all happen again,” or they can “stand together on behalf of Jews in Israel and around the world, who no longer feel safe at school, at work, and especially, online.”
“Can you guys just say with me, ‘Am Yisrael chai’?” Tucker asked before blowing the audience a kiss.
Columbia University student Noa Fay delivered a report from the trenches, reporting how over 100 professors on her campus have advocated for the destruction of Israel.
“I am a Black, Native American Jewish American woman and I will not be silenced,” said Fay. “I will continue to shout.”
“We fight loudly and we fight peacefully. We are far from helpless, we are far from hopeless,” she said.
Just as Jews with different political and religious orientations joined together on the Mall, congressional leaders did as well.
Democratic and Republican leaders literally joined hands on stage, lifting their arms up and repeatedly chanting “We stand with Israel.” The crowd cheered both the Democrats — Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries —and the Republicans — House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senator Joni Ernst, chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke to the crowd live from the Kotel in Jerusalem.
“In the State of Israel’s darkest moment you stood up and declared: Hineini, I am here. We are here. There is no greater and more just cause than this.”