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March 17, 2022

‘Let us not forget’ – 25 from Shalhevet join historic pro-Israel march in Washington, D.C.

REPRESENT%3A+Wearing+matching+sweatshirts%2C+Shalhevet+students+and+faculty+raise+posters+of+those+who+were+kidnapped+by+Hamas+during+Tuesday%E2%80%99s+rally+at+the+National+Mall+in+Washington%2C+D.C.+Calling+for+the+release+of+the+hostages+taken+by+Hamas+on+Oct.+7+was+one+of+the+main+themes+at+the+Nov.+14+rally.
Sam Elyaszadeh
REPRESENT: Wearing matching sweatshirts, Shalhevet students and faculty raise posters of those who were kidnapped by Hamas during Tuesday’s rally at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Calling for the release of the hostages taken by Hamas on Oct. 7 was one of the main themes at the Nov. 14 rally.

A Shalhevet delegation of 21 students, four faculty, and many alumni and families stood in the front row of the March for Israel this past Tuesday on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in what speakers said was the largest pro-Israel rally in American history.

The march was called to support Israel, demand freedom for the hostages being held in Gaza by Hamas, and combat antisemitism. Media reported attendance estimates ranging from 200,000 to 290,000 at the gathering, which included Jews and non-Jews alike.

The crowd heard from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and  U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), newly elected Speaker of the House, in a bipartisan demonstration in support for the Jewish state.

“We are here united, Democrat and Republican, House and Senate, to say we stand with Israel,” said Sen. Schumer.

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“Let us not forget history,” he said. “History shows when the world ignored antisemitism in the last century, it led to the worst catastrophe in human history. Six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.”

On multiple occasions, Shalhevet’s group could be seen on the large screens by the stage, as well as on a livestream broadcast around the world. School officials had printed crewneck sweatshirts which said “Shalhevet stands with Israel” for the group to wear. 

EARLY: Shalhevet’s group arrived early and stood at the very front of the crowd. This resulted in their received extensive coverage on the rally’s livestream and news media photos and videos seen around the world. Above, Dr. Ravanshenas, Sam Elyaszadeh, Ezra Helfand, Rami Melmed and Zach Berman were among those in front; Mr. Weslow and Ms. Emerson can also be seen. (Screenshot from Youtube livestream by Ezra Helfand)

Snipers were visible on the tops of buildings. A security guard who identified himself as J. Smoove told the Boiling Point that military personnel were stationed on the roofs of two nearby buildings standing watch with binoculars and firearms. In addition, PBS reported that the was a “Level 1” security event, comparable to the Super Bowl.

Not everyone who planned to attend got there. Three planes chartered by the Detroit Jewish Federation with 900 passengers could not get to the rally from the tarmac, according to Detroit Free Press. Their report said the bus drivers contracted to drive them from the airport to the National Mall called in sick after learning that they would be driving people to attend a pro-Israel rally.

History shows when the world ignored antisemitism in the last century, it led to the worst catastrophe in human history. Six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.”

— Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)

Sen. Schumer also led the crowd in a chant, shouting multiple times, “We stand—” and then pointing to the crowd prompting everyone to say “—with Israel.”

Describing the massacre of Oct. 7, he said, “The most Jews killed in a single day since the Holocaust.”

Members of Shalhevet’s delegation chanted “Chuckie! Chuckie! Chuckie!” as he finished his speech. He looked at the group with a smile.

Speaker Johnson then took the podium. 

“There are few issues in Washington that could so easily bring together leaders of both parties and both chambers,” Speaker Johnson said. “But the survival of the state of Israel and her people unites us together, and it unites all Americans.”

Other speakers were politicians, musicians, influencers and activists, and the crowd also heard from college students about their experiences with antisemitism on campus. 

Omer Adam, Israeli music icon, led Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem. Later, he performed “Modeh Ani” as well as a duet with Ishay Ribo, singing “HaLev Sheli.” Ribo also led the crowd in tehillim, or Psalms.

Yeshiva University’s a cappella group, The Maccabeats, also performed. The group’s leader was Noah “Noey” Jacobson, a former Shalhevet Judaic Studies teacher.

I’m here to affirm to my Abrahamic brothers and sisters that you are not alone…In the Jewish culture, faith, we call it tikvah, and in Muslim faith we call it tahua. You see how close we are.”

— Anila Ali, Muslim activist

Anila Ali, a Muslim American Pakistani Israel advocate spoke to the crowd. As protesters chanted, “Bring them home,” she responded “Inshallahf God wills.

“I’m here to affirm to my Abrahamic brothers and sisters that you are not alone,” Ms. Ali said. “We are all feeling the hurt, the pain, the fear, but we also stand united in hope that a better future for all of us is possible.

“In the Jewish culture, faith, we call it tikvah, and in Muslim faith we call it tahua. You see how close we are … The war to destroy the Jews and the Jewish homeland must end once and for all.”

Mijal Bitton, an Argentinian American Jewish immigrant and Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, also spoke.

“I stand here as a Jewish woman bearing 4000 years of history from Abraham to my four-year-old daughter,” Ms. Bitton said. “Proud of our people who will never ever give up hope.”

Rally organizers handed out signs with each of the hostages’ picture, name and age for everyone to hold. They also gave out American and Israeli flags. The ADL, Hillel International, and other Jewish organizations printed signs for those in attendance to wave.

Some slogans became recurring chants throughout the rally. Among them were “Bring them home now,” talking about the 240 hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza; “No ceasefire,” defending Israel’s right to defend itself; “Am Yisrael chai,” meaning “the nation of Israel lives”; and “U-S-A,” when thanking America for its support of Israel.

The second I received the email in my inbox it was a no-brainer for me – I had to be there.”

— Sam Elyaszadeh, 12th grade

Leading Shalhevet’s delegation to the nation’s capital were Chief Operating Officer Sarah Emerson, Dean of Student Life Jonny Ravanshenas, and Principal Daniel Weslow. Shalhevet subsidized the trip.

“We all recognized that this was a really important moment and it was going to be a historic and seminal moment in Jewish history, quite honestly,” Ms. Emerson said later, “and just felt that if we could, we should be able to provide that experience to our students and facilitate them being a part of it.”

Those who traveled together – 18 seniors plus staff – flew in on a red-eye Monday night, davened Shacharit at the airport and went straight to the rally, where they found a place at the very front of the crowd. They had dinner at the George Washington University Hillel, and returned home on Tuesday night.

Senior Yosef Harkham was one of 18 seniors in the group.

“I don’t think I’m ever gonna be in a group of Jews this big,” Yosef said. “As far as once-in-a-lifetime opportunities go, this is the best one. This is the one to be at. The atmosphere was indescribable. It was so positive. There was so much hope in the air.”

OPPOSITION: Several dozen members of the extremist anti-Zionist Neturei Karta group protested against the more than 200,000 Jews supporting the State of Israel.
(Sam Elyaszadeh)

Senior Sam Elyaszadeh felt he had no choice but to attend.

“The second I received the email in my inbox it was a no-brainer for me – I had to be there.” Sam said. “I felt an obligation to be there.

“I think the atmosphere was insane. It was a crazy experience. The security also intensified it.” 

At one point, counterprotesters of the anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox Jewish Neturei Karta movement could be heard from behind the gates. Their anti-Israel posters could also be seen, and the group lined up with Palestinian flags near the exit. 

“Stepping out with the Neturei Karta and seeing that entire dynamic was something really interesting and a once in a lifetime opportunity that can’t be replicated anywhere else,” Sam said.

He said his favorite speaker was Ms. Bitton.

“My favorite speaker was the Argentinian refugee who came to America,” said Sam. “Her emotion in her voice really sparked something visceral inside of me that I won’t ever forget.”


This story was originally published on The Boiling Point on November 17, 2023.