“I love you guys.” “I’m sorry.” Those were the last two texts Rachel Goldberg received from her 23-year-old son, Hersh, before he went silent, abducted by Hamas. Each day his mother tears off a strip of masking tape and writes down the number of days Hersh has been gone and places the tape by her heart. Today is Day 39.
Speaking to a crowd at the National Mall estimated at over 290,000, Ms. Goldberg said the families of the hostages “have lived the last 39 days in slow-motion torment,” with “third-degree burns on our souls.
“But the real souls suffering are those of the hostages and they want to ask everyone in the world, why? Why is the world accepting that 240 human beings from almost 30 countries have been stolen and buried alive,” she said, adding, “What the world needs to start thinking about today is what will your excuse be?”
Organized by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the event—which included music by popular artists and speeches by celebrities, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, students, scholars and families of some of the hostages—was the largest pro-Israel gathering in American history.
But the message of the speakers and the signs in the crowd called for far more than the support of the Jewish state and for the release of the hostages. Speaker after speaker called for an end to antisemitism in America and elsewhere.
Israel President Isaac Herzog, speaking via video, summed up the purpose of the gathering, saying, “Today we come together, as a family, one big mishpacha, to march for Israel. 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 around the world. Above all, we come together to march for good over evil, for human morality over blood thirst. We march for light over darkness.”
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries made the moral case for Israel, listing the history of persecution of the Jewish people from being “violently expelled” by the Roman empire, and thence by country after country, culminating with the Holocaust and on through to the Hamas attack on October 7, concluding, “And so we stand together with the Jewish community in Israel, we stand together with the Jewish community in America, we stand together with the Jewish community all throughout the world. We stand together in the effort to crush antisemitism. We stand together in the effort to crush anti-Jewish hate. We stand together in the effort to bring home the hostages. We stand together in the effort to make sure that America will always be a safe space for the Jewish community in every single zip code.”
U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, historian and scholar, Deborah Lipstadt, declared, “Today in America we give antisemitism no sanction, no foothold, no tolerance, not on campus, not in our schools, not in our neighborhoods, not in our streets or the streets of our cities. Not in our government. Nowhere. not now, not ever. . . Hate is not a zero-sum game, hate and violence directed at any member of our society because of who they are is un-American and wrong.”
Jewish communities around the country organized buses and flights to the event. New York City’s Yeshiva University canceled its undergraduate and high school classes so that more than 2,500 students could attend. Explaining the decision, the university’s president, Rabbi Ari Berman said, “There are times that history shows you an invitation to participate in its unfolding, and this is one of those times.”