With next week’s D.C. march, Jewish groups look to hearken back to past unity rallies

Citing 1987 march for Soviet Jewry and 2002 demonstration during the Second Intifada, Conference of Presidents and JFNA leaders say masses needed to push Congress to send aid to Israel, even though it’s a work day

Hoping to rekindle the energy of huge Jewish community rallies on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., during the Second Intifada in 2002 and in support of Soviet Jews in 1987, Jewish leaders are planning a rally in the nation’s capital next week that would be a show of support for Israel at a fraught moment.

American Jews around the country immediately started organizing efforts to fill buses and planes to travel to D.C. and pack the area from the Capitol’s West Front to the Capitol Reflecting Pool next Tuesday, Nov. 14, following the Monday night announcement by national Jewish organizations that a pro-Israel rally would take place. 

Tens of thousands are expected to turn out for what is being dubbed as the March for Israel, which will be held just over five weeks after Hamas’ deadly rampage in Israel and while 240 Israelis are still held captive in Gaza. Eric Fingerhut, CEO of Jewish Federations of North America, the group organizing the rally with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told eJewishPhilanthropy that the goals of the march are “standing up against antisemitism and bringing the hostages [home].” 

The curious timing of the rally — the middle of the afternoon on a weekday — was scheduled around when Congress will be in session and considering emergency supplemental aid to Israel, which Fingerhut called “an important element of this march,” even as the crowd size could be lower than it would be on a Sunday. 

President Joe Biden has asked Congress for $14 billion in emergency assistance for Israel, including $10 billion in defense assistance, as part of an aid package that would also include funding for Ukraine. On Tuesday, Senate Democrats blocked the bill passed by the Republican-controlled House to separate aid to Israel from aid to Ukraine as it would have also entailed an equal cut in funding to the IRS — a move that has been criticized, including by some Republicans, as playing politics with Israeli defense assistance. The Senate is crafting its own supplemental aid bill.

“We are grateful for the support of the president and Congress for Israel since Oct. 7 [and] we believe it’s very important that all Americans… come together and make sure Congress knows that we support this policy and hope and expect that it will continue as long as it’s necessary until Hamas is defeated,” Fingerhut said. “We believe it is important that members of Congress see the broad, deep support across all of American society. We know that they have been hearing from some contrary voices, some pro-Hamas voices in their communities and we know those are fringe voices, but it’s important to demonstrate that to them with a physical presence,” he said, noting that he does not believe that holding the rally on a weekday will deter attendance. 

“We believe people are going to show up, and that they must show up, and that they will come at the designated time for showing up… this is a moment when everyone knows it is their responsibility to come.”

Rabbi Dr. Leonard Matanky, dean of the The Ida Crown Jewish Academy, a Modern Orthodox high school in Skokie, Ill., is making sure that his students show up. The school is taking a planeload of its senior class, about 60 students, along with four teachers, to the capital.

“It’s an existential moment,” Matanky told eJP, adding that the last time the school brought students to a D.C. rally was in 2002 during the Second Intifada. “This is a critical moment in our history, and this is a time when our students need to recognize that they need to be seen and their voices need to be heard.”

Amid a rise of violent antisemitic incidents since Oct. 7, including on Monday when a man in Los Angeles died after a pro-Palestinian protester reportedly struck him in the head at a rally, William Daroff, CEO of Conference of Presidents, said that security is a top priority. 

Daroff noted that CoP and JFNA have involved the Department of Homeland Security at “the highest level,” in addition to the FBI, D.C. police, Joint Special Operations Command, Anti-Defamation League and Secure Community Network to ensure that “security precautions are top of what they need to be.” 

“The National Mall is also called America’s front yard and it is absolutely crucial that Jews feel welcome to wear their yarmulkes, to wear their Stars of David, to be Jews on America’s front yard,” Daroff said. “We’re sending that message to our detractors.” 

Fingerhut added that “showing up is the best way to address the security concerns, because the more of us that are there, the more secure we are together.” 

“This is our National Mall and all Americans belong there and have a place there. We understand that there are heightened risks because of the war in Israel and protests around the country, but we are certainly not going to be intimidated,” he said. 

D.C. has also seen several large pro-Palestinian protests, including one over the weekend outside of the White House opposing Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Gaza. 

Daroff noted that a “plethora” of non-Jewish allies will be joining on Tuesday afternoon. “Thousands of our allies, Christians, African Americans, Sikhs, Muslims… are standing up with us,” he said, adding that the schedule of speakers and attendees is not yet finalized but will include family members of those being held hostage by Hamas and American college students who have battled antisemitism on campus

The march is expected to draw participants from a wide spectrum of the Jewish community, ranging from the Zionist Organization of America to Americans for Peace Now, in addition to representatives of the Orthodox Union, United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism and the Union for Reform Judaism. Agudath Israel of America, which three years ago reaffirmed its opposition to Zionism, encouraged people to attend, sharing the poster for the march on X.

Since Oct. 7, there have been more than 123 rallies, vigils and marches in support of Israel throughout North America, Fingerhut said. “In almost every community, members of Congress, governors, mayors, business leaders, religious leaders of all kinds, were all there.” On Monday night, more than 12,000 New Yorkers attended a candlelight vigil near Central Park, organized by UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

“So this is not the first expression of concern you are getting from the Jewish community,” Fingerhut continued. “It’s certainly the first time in this crisis that we’re coming together in Washington.” 

Fingerhut, a former Ohio congressman, reflected fondly on attending the Soviet Jewry mass rally, dubbed “Freedom Sunday,” which drew more than 250,000 people to the National Mall. He recalled helping to organize more than a dozen buses of Jewish activists from Cleveland to D.C. 

“My entire life, I’ll never forget it,” he told eJP, adding that within 24 hours of announcing next week’s rally, the demand for buses from Cleveland has been equally high. 

Daroff added that Tuesday will have “the feel of the American Jewish community coming together, with our non-Jewish brothers and sisters, in solidarity and unity.” 

“As it was for Soviet Jewry, as it was for the Second Intifada and as it is now.”