After the March

We came to Washington united. We left with our work cut out for us.

In Short

As our challenges continue to grow and evolve, so too must our community strategies.

Only a little more than five weeks ago, Jews in the U.S. were a fractious people. In addition to wide disparities in our religious practices and political beliefs, our visions for Israel’s future divided us. Unfortunately it took the Oct. 7 catastrophe to serve as the wake up call we needed to unite us in ways most of us have never seen in our lifetimes. 

That feeling of unity was palpable as we flooded the National Mall on Tuesday: 290,000 of us — religious and secular, left-wing and right-wing — put aside our differences to focus on supporting Israel during this dark time, calling for the immediate release of all hostages held in Gaza, and countering the antisemitism surging through the veins of our country’s institutions and public squares. 

The aftermath of Hamas’ unspeakable murderous rampage should have been a time for grieving. Among the 1,200 murdered were Jewish, Arab and Druze citizens of Israel, as well as foreign workers who had come to Israel to make a better life for their families. More than 240 hostages were taken to Gaza, including 32 children. But instead of being given space to mourn and grieve, we were immediately subjected to false attacks. We were “white” and “privileged” and “colonizers,” responsible for the world’s ills. 

Israel and world Jewry are well-accustomed to the double standard by which much of the world judges Israel’s actions. Even so, we never could have imagined that the response to a monstrous slaughter of our people would lead to yet more incitement against Diaspora Jews along with calls for eradication of the Jewish national homeland.

Our history has taught us that antisemitism really needs no reason for being, just a pretense for emerging. The virulent hatred that has bloomed in recent weeks has also belied the old axiom that “anti-Israel does not mean antisemitic.” Criticizing Israeli government policies – as millions of Israelis and Jewish Americans have done in recent months – is not antisemitic. Calling for the land “from the river to the sea” to be free of 7 million Jews, on the other hand, is just new window dressing for age-old antisemitism. Too many university presidents and superintendents of public schools are failing to hear these dog whistles.

In the world’s silence about our hostages in Gaza, we also see antisemitism. Where are the international organizations that advocate for children’s well-being all over the world? Where are international women’s groups that champion women’s freedom and advocate for rape survivors? Where are all the humanitarian organizations and NGOs that Jews have philanthropically supported for decades? 

As our challenges continue to grow and evolve, so too must our community strategies.

As the war goes on in Gaza, calls for a ceasefire are growing increasingly loud on the far left. We must not only continue to remind our current mainstream Democratic allies and potential allies how this war started – we must also take up the challenging work of laying out why a premature ceasefire will produce anything but a peaceful outcome for Israelis and Palestinians alike. With hostages still underground and Hamas committed to repeating the atrocities of Oct. 7, freezing the conflict today would leave Israelis in an untenable position.

Similarly, as antisemitism and incitement continues in our K-12 schools, on our college campuses and among our politicians, we must strengthen our grassroots efforts in all of these arenas: efforts to remind public safety officials of the threats facing us; efforts to ensure that antisemitism and Jewish identity trainings are fully incorporated into DEI curriculum; and efforts to defeat antisemitic resolutions and call out bigotry and conspiracy theories.

In her address to the hundreds of thousands gathered, Rachel Goldberg-Polin, the mother of 23-year-old hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin, asked how 240 human beings held captive underground have become a “footnote” in worldwide discourse. 

As we all travel home from Washington, Rachel’s call to action must remain with us, newly united, to ensure that Hersh and all of the hostages’ lives stay front of mind for civic and elected leaders across the country. Only by staying united in this fight can we bring them home. 

Tyler Gregory is CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area.