A day to remember
OpinionGuest columnist

A day to remember

The Metro was packed — with people, sure, but more with energy and love, high purpose and positive vibes

Tuesday, Nov. 14 Rally for Israel on the National Mall. (Photo by David Rullo)
Tuesday, Nov. 14 Rally for Israel on the National Mall. (Photo by David Rullo)

Frazzled and frantic and frightened, the emails from friends and family and former students flew back and forth from Israel, with tales of call-ups; cooking and cleaning and collecting clothes for soldiers; taking in refugees; houses full of sleeping bags; and civilians standing armed guard.

All while missiles were still flying — and armed brigands stalked the countryside seeking to murder Jews.

I was enraged. And I was also helpless.

So, when this march was announced, I had to go. To transmit messages of love and support for Israel, of thanks for the United States. To offer strength for the struggle.

Of course, I discussed it with my family, with Judy, my wonderful wife, and our children. While Tova in Cleveland was unable to make it, Jesse & Co. in Potomac (ages 11-46), and Elie in Boca Raton came to what we hoped would be a glorious day.

We were not disappointed.

And we were not alone.

As a friend said to me the night before, “You’re taking all of us with you.”

I have never been more honored.

The day began in the pre-dawn dark of the Federation parking lot, with coffee, doughnuts and WTAE interviews. (Old pards Kenny Steinberg and Larry Rubin were superb. Yosher koach!)

Boarding buses, there were hugs and handshakes, high spirits and holy thoughts.

As dawn broke over the Allegheny Mountains, some of us dovened shacharis, the hills and trees, cows and cornfields quiescent in the gathering light.

Arriving at FedEx Field in suburban Washington, a friend had predicted “chaos — at best.” In reality, things were quite well coordinated, thanks to the efforts of Federation VP/COO Jessica Brown Smith and her volunteers. Kudos!

Predictably, the Metro was packed — with people, sure, but more with energy and love, high purpose and positive vibes.

Positioning ourselves close to a monitor and speaker so that we could see and hear well, Amy and Marty Cohn, Mordechai Peled and I were roughly a mile and an ocean of people from the podium.

I like crowds – always have — and I just loved this one, with black hats and rainbow flags, painted faces and knit kipot. Am Yisroel Chai!

There are no accidents in life, so on the day we celebrated Rosh Chodesh Kislev, the Jewish month with the most darkness in it, we also looked forward to Chanukah, the holiday of light.

That day, we were the light, about 300,000 of us, the largest Jewish gathering in American history. It was, arguably, the single largest group of Jews since Joshua led us into Canaan.

There had also been 300,000 Israeli reservists called up. As one man said, 600,000 Jews stood at Mount Sinai. That day, we again were 600,000 people together. One people. One heart.

Delivering with power and conviction, the speakers reminded us that, unlike in dark times past, we are not alone, that we have powerful friends who will support us here and in Israel.

Support us in the fights against this vicious rise of what my oldest friend (as in, since kindergarten) calls volcanic antisemitism and the complicity of silence in the fights to bring home the hostages and end Hamas’ savage reign of terror in both Gaza and Israel. Bring peace to Israel.

Tovah Feldshuh, whom Judy and I saw in the remarkable “Golda’s Balcony,” said, “I stand here for the kidnapped children.”

Right. I had thought about what my reaction would be if one or more of my beautiful, perfect grandchildren (for those of you not yet in the bracket, everyone’s grandchildren are beautiful and perfect) would by kidnapped by those monsters. Then I thought about something else.

When she added, “We stand here as yahrzeit candles,” it was time to take the tissues out of my pocket because I could no longer see to write notes.

Reminding us that he is the highest-ranking Jew in American history, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer was hardly displaying ego, but instead relating the fact of our collective position in America, that, including a state and an army, we are neither alone nor unprotected.

Speaking of antisemitism in America, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries echoed Dr. King, saying, “An attack on any of us is an attack on all of us.”

My favorite moment came when newly elected Speaker of the House Mike Johnson simply said, “The calls for a ceasefire are

As the events began to wind down, what we had done started to sink in.

As my extraordinary daughter-in-law Elana put it, “Today was safe. Today was organized. Today was fun. Today we made history.
“And we needed today,” she added. “We needed to witness, experience and feel the energy, love and strength of 300,000 Jews. We’ve been so sad, scared, anxious, stressed and sick for 39 days, and today, finally, we feel empowered and energized.”

“It was the event of a lifetime,” her husband, my son Jesse, added.

Yes, it was.

The older I get, the more I consider how things snag in memory, how they never leave.

This won’t, not for me, not for my children.

Most important, not for my grandchildren.

Who will no doubt remember this day forever. When, given the chance, they, their parents and their Zeidi went to Washington to stand up for our Jewish families, everyone, everywhere.

On a day of inspiration and emotion.

A day that ended back on our buses, watching long lines of red taillights snaking out of Washington, into the darkness and distance and beyond. pjc

Abby Mendelson is the author of many books about Pittsburgh.

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