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Jewish Scholastic Press Association

Jewish Scholastic Press Association

Heschel Students Participate in Historic March for Israel

Israeli+flags+fly+in+the+wind+at+the+March+for+Israel.
Olivia Levine
Israeli flags fly in the wind at the March for Israel.

With the sky still dark, Heschel students from grades 8-12, carrying food, water, and even blankets, promptly boarded the nine buses stationed outside the school building.

For over a week, Heschel students had anticipated the March for Israel in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Nov. 14. “It will not be an easy day,” head of high school Rabbi Noam warned the senior class before the rally.

Indeed, students were required to arrive at Heschel no later than 6:30 a.m.; some even came thirty minutes earlier for tefilah. Given the long drive to the nation’s capital, head of school Ariela Dubler forecasted a return time of around 10:00 p.m. Due to heightened security, Heschel buses had to drop students off approximately two miles from the rally.

Despite these difficult conditions, over five hundred members of the Heschel community–students, faculty, alumni, and parents–were eager to support Israel and participate in the rally, coordinated by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Federations of North America.

According to a number of Jewish media sources, around 290,000 people attended the demonstration at the National Mall–not only to support Israel and call for the return of the hostages, but also to condemn the proliferation of antisemitism since Oct. 7. The Department of Homeland Security raised the security level at the event to the highest designation, one often used for the Super Bowl and other major events.

Many notable figures spoke at the rally. In a calculated display of bipartisanship and congressional unity, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) took the stage together. Senator Schumer, a Jew himself, chanted with the crowd, “Let them go,” as Mr. Johnson asserted, “The calls for a cease-fire are outrageous.”

Speaking virtually from the Western Wall, Israeli President Isaac Herzog said, “Jews all over the world are assaulted for being Jewish. The hatred, the lies, the brutality, the disgraceful outburst of ancient antisemitism are an embarrassment to all civilized people and nations.”

The event was not free of controversy. The presence of guest speaker John Hagee, televangelist and founder of Christians United for Israel, generated significant criticism, as his past remarks about Jews–including a 2005 claim that God enabled the Holocaust to give rise to the Jewish state–resurfaced.

Yet it wasn’t the content of the speeches which Heschel students found especially impactful. Rather, it was their mere presence–the ability to say they attended a historic rally in support of the Jewish people–that was important to students.

“The day wore me out, but I’m so happy I went. 300,000 Jews! It’s definitely a story I’ll tell my kids,” freshman Emily Mittler said.

“Standing in solidarity with thousands of other Jews, singing HaTikvah with Omer Adam–the sense of community was incredible,” senior Yonatan Benichou said.

In a school-wide email, Ariela Dubler reflected on the day’s experience: “I hope that we will all carry with us forever the powerful words of the speakers, the roaring support of the crowd, and the incredible power that we have in this country to raise our voices for what we believe in. I hope it will inspire us to stay strong and engaged.”

This story was published in the Heschel Helios on Dec. 5, 2023.

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