'Calling for common humanity': Lehigh Valley Jews show up strong at March for Israel in D.C.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — About 150 members of the Lehigh Valley’s Jewish community ventured to the nation's capital on Tuesday to take part in a march “for Israel, to free hostages, [and] against antisemitism” — an event that drew hundreds of thousands of Jews.
Three buses escorted the Lehigh Valley crowd to Washington for the meeting at the National Mall, where Jews from across the United States — and some from beyond those borders — came together in solidarity.
In what many called "a historic event," they did so in the wake of Israel's war with Hamas, which has claimed thousands of innocent lives.
Rabbi Shoshanah Tornberg of Congregation Keneseth Israel–Allentown offered a prayer for safe travel as the buses took off from the Jewish Community Center in Allentown.
"There were so many emotions too – there was sadness, there was anger, but there was also a lot of joy, so many people celebrating Jewish joy, Jewish pride, while also calling for common humanity, calling for shared goals, calling for peace, calling for justice."Engagement and Programming Associate at Lehigh University's Office of Jewish Student Life and Hillel Tyler Katz
“May we be blessed as we go on our way, may we be guided in peace, may we be blessed with health and joy, may this be our blessing, ah'main," Tornberg said.
"May we be sheltered by the wings of peace, may we be kept in safety and in love, may grace and compassion find their way to every soul, may this be our blessing ah'main. Ah'main, may this be our blessing, ah'main,”
'Never again is now'
On the ride, Dale Wallace of Allentown shared her thoughts on why she found it so important to attend the event.
“I’m Jewish, and my first loyalty is to the United States," she said. "I’m a United States citizen, but next to that, I love Israel, and I want to show my support for what’s going on there.
"My heart goes out to the Palestinian people and how they’re suffering, but I’m just so sad about what’s going on. If we don’t support Israel now, there’s not going to be an Israel.”
“I’m very excited and energized and anxious to bring home our hostages. This community is especially supportive of Israel, and it’s a special community, and we’re delighted to be here together.Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley Executive Director Jeri Zimmerman
Wallace said victims of the conflict included “not just Jews, there’s Muslims there, there’s Hindu people, there’s people of all persuasions and from so many countries.”
Arriving in Washington just before noon, members of the Jewish Federation led the crowd through the metro before arriving at the National Mall, which already was packed with people from across the northeast and beyond.
“I’m very excited and energized and anxious to bring home our hostages,” Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley Executive Director Jeri Zimmerman said upon arrival.
“This community is especially supportive of Israel, and it’s a special community, and we’re delighted to be here together.”
Students, teachers, advocates and allies ventured throughout the park bearing signs, shirts and flags calling to “return the hostages” and announcing, “never again is now.”
Muhlenberg College students Rosie Gilbert and Philip Berger said the historic significance of the event and the importance of combating antisemitism were the driving factors for them to attend.
“I think it’s really important to stand up for your people and what you believe in, and I think this is going to be a monumental event that’s going to have a huge outcome," Gilbert said. "And it’s just really important to show up.
“It’s really nice. I think even driving on the highway, looking and seeing the other buses, knowing that we’re all going to the same place and we’re all coming together, it was a really beautiful thing.”
Berger said he hasn’t experienced any direct antisemitism on his campus, but has heard of a professor conveying such messages online and in the classroom, and amidst nationwide reports of similar incidents, he felt compelled to raise his voice.
“I think especially with the rise of antisemitism on campuses all across the country, it really is important to come to this rally, and show your support,” Berger said.
But a drop in a sea
Shortly after the event started at 1 p.m., a representative from the Jewish Federation of North America estimated the attendance at 200,000 people — with even more drifting into the mall by the moment.
The Times of Israel later figured around 300,000 people attended in all.
While Lehigh Valley Jews made for but a drop in the sea, their energy and enthusiasm contributed strongly to the swell of palpable passion throughout the crowd.
"I think it’s a beautiful site to see the National Mall packed with people to pray for peace, to ask our government to continue their strong support for Israel, and to ask the national community to support us."Jewish Federation Director of Campaign and Security Planning Aaron Gorodzinsky
Jewish Federation Director of Campaign and Security Planning Aaron Gorodzinsky, looking out onto the growing crowd, said he was happy to see the strong turnout, and proud of the support offered by his fellow Jews from the Lehigh Valley.
“I think it’s a beautiful site to see the National Mall packed with people to pray for peace, to ask our government to continue their strong support for Israel, and to ask the national community to support us,” Gorodzinsky said.
Speakers at the event included Jewish religious leaders, politicians, ambassadors and even musicians, all of whom enthusiastically called for an end to the conflict in the Middle East.
Some notable guests included actress Debra Messing; author, lawyer, and civil rights activist Van Jones; Dillard University President Rochelle Ford; Broadway actress Tovah Feldshuh; and human rights activist and former political prisoner Natan Sharansky.
Several prayers and musical performances included the Maccabeats, Matisyahu, and Israeli pop stars Omer Adam and Ishay Ribo.
During a message from Israeli President Isaac Herzog, speaking from the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the crowd was awash in cheers and enthusiastic cries of solidarity.
“We, the people of Israel, are eternal, and no one will break us," Herzog said. "From the Jewish symbol of fulfillment of our ancient dreams, to the American symbols of freedom, liberty, and democracy, thank you.
“Thank you to the hundreds of thousands who have gathered from all over the United States, all people of good will, friends from different communities, faiths, and denominations who have gathered today for this massive show of solidarity.”
“Like our ancestors, who for 3,000 years looked hate straight in the eyes, we, too, will prevail. We will take care of each other, we will take care of our brothers and sisters in Israel, we will fight, and we will love ferociously. Our light will shine until the darkness is defeated. Am Yisrael Chai.”Actress Debra Messing
Herzog said the group was there to “march for the babies, the boys and girls, women and men viciously held hostage by Hamas, to march for the right of every Jew to live proudly and safely in America, in Israel and all around the world.”
The Israeli president also described the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel as “the largest massacre since the Holocaust, “inspiring the call of “never again, never again, never again is now.”
He also expressed thanks for the support of the Biden administration, along with representatives and senators from both sides of the aisle.
Messing comforted the crowd, telling them she understood the fear and loneliness they felt, but reassuring all those in the park that they were not, in fact, alone.
“Like our ancestors, who for 3,000 years looked hate straight in the eyes, we, too, will prevail,” Messing said. “We will take care of each other, we will take care of our brothers and sisters in Israel, we will fight, and we will love ferociously.
"Our light will shine until the darkness is defeated. Am Yisrael Chai.”
Stressing a sense of love and support
Numerous political figures from both parties, including New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, also provided commentary to the crowd, with Schumer pledging the U.S. government's support for Israel.
“But my friends, history reminds us also of one thing, that even in its darkest days, the United States has always stood with Israel, and we will do everything to never, ever change.”New York Sen. Chuck Shumer
“History shows that when antisemitism rears its ugly head, if it's not dealt with forcefully, and directly, it grows into a deadly force,” Schumer said.
“But my friends, history reminds us also of one thing, that even in its darkest days, the United States has always stood with Israel, and we will do everything to never, ever change.”
Speaking on behalf of the Bipartisan Congressional Caucus to Combat Antisemitism, Sens. Jacky Rosen and James Lankford and Reps. Chris Smith and Kathy Manning took turns sharing prayers for the safety of those captured in Gaza.
“We plead that you bless, protect and guard those of your people, Israel, and of your people from all faiths, and all nations, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, soldiers, civilians, adults, youth and babies, the captured and the missing, who have been cruelly and heartlessly torn from their homes and carried off,” Rosen said.
Each speaker and performer harbored a strong sense of compassion, often expressing solidarity for the Palestinians suffering under Hamas, and stressing a sense of love and support.
'Amazing ... an electric feeling'
As attendees flooded out from the crowded mall, people could be heard singing, chanting and cheering, many in elation from the groundswell of support and love from their compatriots and their allies.
Stepping up onto the bus to head back to the Lehigh Valley, Engagement and Programming Associate at Lehigh University's Office of Jewish Student Life and Hillel Tyler Katz reflected on what brought them to the rally.
Katz said it was support for Israel, awareness about the Israel-Hamas war, combating against antisemitism and providing a show of solidarity for their people.
"There was also a lot of joy, so many people celebrating Jewish joy, Jewish pride, while also calling for common humanity, calling for shared goals, calling for peace, calling for justice."Hillel Society of Lehigh University member Tyler Katz
“It was amazing… honestly, it was an electric feeling," Katz said. "It was wild. There were 300,000 people or therearound. I don’t know if I’ve ever been with so many Jewish people ever. I don’t know if I ever will again.
"I mean, I’ve been to Israel multiple times, and I’ve never felt like there have been so many Jewish people in one place at one time. There were so many emotions, too — there was sadness, there was anger.
"But there was also a lot of joy, so many people celebrating Jewish joy, Jewish pride, while also calling for common humanity, calling for shared goals, calling for peace, calling for justice.
“To see 300,000 people there, all united for the same cause, across the political spectrum, across the Jewish spectrum — not even just the Jewish spectrum, there were allies there as well. To see so many people there, it was really just amazing. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it before.”