An estimated 290,000 people filled up the National Mall in Washington, D.C., last Tuesday, including local electeds and SAR students, in what is being called the largest pro-Israel march in U.S. history. Those there stood in solidarity with Israel in combating antisemitism and demanding the release of more than 200 hostages in Gaza.
As of Tuesday, a tentative agreement for the release of Gaza hostages was awaiting approval by Israel’s cabinet.
The Riverdale Jewish Community Partnership, coordinated by The Riverdale Y, sent eight charter buses filled with about 400 community members, to the march.Twenty SAR buses with about 50 people each also made the historic trip to Washington last week, SAR Academy principal Rabbi Binyamin Krauss estimated, with about 1,000 students and 200 teachers present. He said on the way there an Israeli journalist asked the students why they were coming to the march. Their answer? Numbers matter.
“It’s hard to say it felt good because it’s just a hard time for the world and for Israel and for our people,” Krauss told The Riverdale Press about the march. “But it did feel empowering and strong and it felt united. I was very proud to have been part of bringing over a thousand students, and that was just our school.”
For many of the students it was powerful to be part of a historic and meaningful event, where they had their voices heard and expressed to the U.S. government they wanted to see Israeli hostages be released. They also stood against the U.S. designated terrorist group Hamas. One of the students was also the one to introduce U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres.
“Oct. 7 was a crime against the Jewish state, indeed against humanity” said Torres in a broadcast livestreamed at the rally. “So barbaric that it cannot be ignored. It cannot go unpunished. Hamas must be brought to justice. Israel has a right to defend itself and America has a duty to stand with Israel in her struggle for survival and self-defense.”
Torres, who got his start in politics when he was 16 and ran for office when he was 21, told The Riverdale Press it was inspiring to see young people from Riverdale politically and civilly engaged. “You’re never too young to be a political leader,” he said.
In attendance at the event was also Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, Councilman Eric Dinowitz, U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, U.S. House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, bipartisan congressional members, and families of American hostages.
“It was really a roller coaster of emotions,” Councilman Dinowitz said. “I felt so proud to be a zionist. There was joy and fun in seeing our friends and standing for what’s right. But also there was heartbreak hearing from family members of those who have been taken and reminded ourselves that Hamas is still holding hostages captive.”
Eric Fingerhut, president and chief executive of the Jewish Federations of North America and an organizer for the march, estimated there were 290,000 gathered on the Mall, with an additional 250,000 watching on a live stream on C-SPAN. There were also 900 participants from the Detroit Federation whose bus drivers refused to take them to a pro-Israel event, Fingerhut said to the crowd.
The pro-Israel march came on the heels of the largest march in support of Palestine in U.S. history a week prior, which according to organizers Answer Coalition, had an estimated 300,000 gathered at Freedom Plaza in Washington. The pro-Palestine marchers there called for a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza conflict, which has reportedly killed more than 14,000 Gazans and more than 1,200 Israelis and nationals, as of Tuesday.
While there have been calls for a ceasefire by several members of congress, Torres has never been one of them, saying to marchers that a ceasefire with Hamas would not be a peace agreement, but rather a death sentence for Israelis.
“No one expected the United States to enter into a ceasefire with the Empire of Japan when 2,400 Americans were murdered in Pearl Harbor,” Torres said. “No one expected the United States to enter into a ceasefire with Al Qaeda and the Taliban when 3,000 Americans were murdered on 9/11. And so those who insist that Israel should no longer defend itself are holding the Jewish state to a dangerous double standard that no other country including the United States would ever impose on itself.”
Torres told The Press the words of Clarence Jones, co-writer of the “I Have a Dream” speech, were on his mind as he stood on the National Mall where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his speech 60 years ago.
“Just like Jewish Americans stood with the African Americans in the fight for civil rights, I am standing with the Jewish community,” Torres said. “2023 marks the 60th anniversary of the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and the 75th anniversary of the birth of Israel. The words I had of Israel, the Jewish people have their own dream of liberation. Israel is the realization of the dream for the next 75 years and beyond.”
The march was not without its criticism, namely from the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
“Today’s Pro-Genocide March in DC is a sad attempt to match the energy of millions who have marched, protested, phone-banked, and engaged in direct action to demand a ceasefire and fight for a Free Palestine,” the organization posted on X Nov. 14.
The original post received criticism from many, including Assemblyman Dinowitz.
“The language they’ve used is so divisive and hateful that they are almost like mocking themselves,” Assemblyman Dinowitz said to The Press. “Whatever credibility they may have had before Oct. 7 pretty much melted away. To use words like Hitler, when talking about 300,000 people, most of whom, the large majority were Jewish, comparing them to Hitler, using words like genocide. I did not once hear the DSA condemn Hamas or seriously criticize the terrorist attacks of Oct. 7 and I think that pretty much says it all.”
Around 1,200 people were killed in Israel on Oct. 7. That number was originally reported to be 1,400 but was recently revised by Israeli officials who said that toll originally included Hamas attackers.