From Our CEO
History Was Made
November 17th, 2023

Thousands and thousands of teens, arm in arm, singing “Hatikvah” and “God Bless America.”

Countless Israeli flags and American flags waving.

With an estimated 290,000+ attendees, Tuesday’s March for Israel at the National Mall was the largest gathering for a Jewish cause in American history.

Jewish federations across the country played a pivotal role in mobilizing people to participate. For our part, UJA organized and funded 133 buses. Working around the clock from the moment the rally was announced just a week before, we reached out to hundreds of JCCs, day schools, synagogues, and Hillels — empowering many thousands of people of all ages from every corner of New York to come down to D.C.

UJA Federation of New York >> <center>
<p><em>A historic 290,000+ marchers gathered on the National Mall.</em></p>
<p class="MsoNormal"><span style="font-size: 10.5pt; font-family: 'Segoe UI',sans-serif;">(Courtesy Jewish Federations of North America/Chris Williams)</span></p>

A historic 290,000+ marchers gathered on the National Mall.

(Courtesy Jewish Federations of North America/Chris Williams)

We showed the world what a peaceful, inspiring, pro-humanity, anti-hate rally can be. Scheduled for a weekday so that Congress would be in session, speakers included House and Senate leadership, Republicans and Democrats demonstrating a bipartisan solidarity rarely seen today.

And virtually the entire Jewish community in all its wonderful diversity showed up in huge numbers: Jews of every denomination, every ethnic origin, every sexual orientation, every political affiliation. Again, the kind of unity rarely seen before. 

The wide array of speakers — from relatives of the hostages to Jewish American college students to Israel’s president on video from Jerusalem — didn’t hold back. They passionately made the case for Israel, for the release of the hostages, for diaspora Jewry’s fight against antisemitism. They spoke of our painful history, our resilience, and our unity.

Despite the hours on the road, the traffic, and the crowds, people were in excellent spirits. Many said that the journey was as meaningful as the destination. The hours of friendship, laughter, and community offered a balm after more than 40 days of grief and anxiety. 

For some, the experience was lifechanging. 

We heard from the principal of a girls’ yeshiva serving a largely immigrant community, who told us that the bus we'd provided “changed worlds today.” She explained that her community historically had little experience with advocacy and wasn't tapped into the political need to publicly support Israel. Many parents were hesitant for their children to participate. But thanks to the principal’s determination, and given that we'd underwritten the cost, most parents ultimately allowed the girls to join.

As the principal wrote in a follow-up, “The rally instilled a profound sense of pride in the girls — pride for their nation and pride for Israel... I believe the lessons of this rally will change these girls, these families, and this community for generations."

The truth is, it’s not just this community that’s changed. We all have. None of us are the same after October 7.

The barbarity of the Hamas attack, coupled with the unleashing of antisemitic hatred across the world, has galvanized a new kind of Jewish engagement.

Many who stood on the sidelines of Jewish life are showing up as never before. Synagogue attendance is soaring. Trustees and alumni at American colleges are no longer willing to remain silent about ideologies that have made many campuses hostile environments for Jewish students. Apathy is no longer our challenge.

Our challenge is how we build on this moment.

When Hamas isn’t the headline, when antisemitism isn't quite as overt, how do we sustain and grow this sense of unity and revived connection to Jewish life?

How do we continue to convene across difference and create a Jewish community as beautifully engaged as we were for those hours on the National Mall?

We’ve seen what’s possible. Those thousands and thousands of Jewish teens who rallied saw it and lived it.

For their sake, for the sake of the Jewish future, let’s make the most of this opportunity.

Shabbat shalom