WASHINGTON – Rhode Islanders were among the roughly 290,000 people who streamed into Washington on Tuesday by rail, by air, by car and by bus for the March for Israel.
I joined several Rhode Islanders on a bus that left from Temple Israel, in Sharon, Massachusetts. Over the long journey, a sense of camaraderie enveloped the passengers.
Why did people attend? Bailey Siletchnik, of Newport, said she “could not NOT go.” Cantor Joel Gluck, of Warwick, said, “The main reason I went was to show solidarity, and I felt it was somewhere I had to be.”
Guy Bermel, of Providence, said, “It was very important for me to be here to identify as a Jew and as a Zionist, and to support Israel, to respond to antisemitism and support the hostages.”
Rabbi Loel Weiss, of Middletown, said, “I was at the United Nations in June 1967 when the Six-Day War broke out. I was in Washington in December 1987 when we marched for Soviet Jewry. And I wanted to be there on Tuesday when we marched against Jew hatred and for Israel’s right to exist.”
At a visit organized by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, some of those attending from Rhode Island had an opportunity to meet Congressmen Seth Magaziner and Gabe Amo before attending the rally.
Bermel observed, “When we went in to meet the congressmen, they had just come from a security briefing with footage of what Hamas had been doing in Israel [on Oct. 7], and they were both clearly shocked by it. It was Gabe Amo’s first day on the job, and it was a pretty rough day for him, I think.”
Rep. Magaziner told Jewish Rhode Island, “I was happy to host members of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and other Rhode Islanders who came to Washington for the March for Israel.
“We stand united in our support for Israel and pray for the swift return of those taken hostage. In Congress, I am working to ensure Israel has the resources it needs to defend itself from Hamas and work towards a lasting peace in the region.”
Amo stated, “On my first full day as a member of Congress, I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet with members of Rhode Island’s Jewish community. “At a time of great distress for our Jewish community in the 1st Congressional District and around the world, it was an especially meaningful way to start my tenure in office.
“As the United States responds to the Israel-Hamas War, I stand in support of our ally, Israel, and I want our local Jewish community to know that my office stands ready to support you, now and in the future.”
After arriving at the National Mall on the sunny and almost warm day, the group I was with quickly felt very much a part of the larger group. From our position way in the back, we watched the speakers on an enormous screen.
The speakers, including leading members of Congress, covered three topics: Israel, antisemitism and the hostages.
“Bring them home” was the phrase that most resonated with the crowd, and when a speaker said those words, the crowd took up the call, some with tears in their eyes: “Bring them home, bring them home, bring them home ....”
One of the more memorable speakers was American actress and singer Tovah Feldshuh, who delighted the crowd by saying, “My name is Tovah Feldshuh, my Hebrew name is Tovah Feldshuh, and my Starbucks name is Tovah Feldshuh. … As [former Israeli] Prime Minister Golda Meir said, ‘Some people love you, and some people love you and show up.’ You showed up, and that makes all the difference.”
Many politicians – both Jewish and non-Jewish – as well as celebrities and, remotely, the Israeli president, Isaac Herzog spoke. Musicians included the Maccabeats, with Matisyahu, and Ishay Ribo, with Omer Adam, whose rendering of “Halev Sheli” enthralled the crowd. We also heard from family members of people taken hostage by Hamas.
After the march, Cantor Gluck said, “I was amazed that 290,000 Jews of all denominations could get together peacefully because we had a common cause. I hope this proves that all Jews share more in common than we are different.
“Just look at the rest stop on the way home. The Orthodox were davening while everyone else was eating. No one chastised anyone for eating certain foods. It was very fulfilling to experience that.
“It was also amazing to see that we are not alone in this. All major religions were represented by the speakers at the rally.”
Bermel said the highpoint for him was “the very strong feeling of belonging. So many people sharing what I am feeling and supporting Israel; it was reassuring and invigorating.”
For Rabbi Andrea Gouze, of Providence, “It was powerful to hear the voices of the families of the hostages talk about the emotional toll and trauma to their lives. It was powerful, it was significant, and I am proud to have been part of it.”
The march was organized by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
AARON GINSBURG lives in Stoughton, Massachusetts, and blogs at jewishnewport.blogspot.com.