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Marching on the National Mall

AJA Students Attend the March for Israel

On November 14, a crowd gathered for the March for Israel on the National Mall in Washington D.C., raising signs, chanting slogans, listening to speakers, singing songs, and praying. Their stated goals were threefold; according to the march’s slogan they marched “for Israel,” “to free hostages,” and “against anti-semitism.” According to the march’s organizers, the Jewish Federation of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an estimated 290,000 people demonstrated that Tuesday, making it the largest pro-Israel rally in United States history. Encouraged to attend by the school, a number of AJA students were in that crowd.

Embracing the march as an important opportunity for students, the AJA high school canceled classes on November 14 and offered high school students extensions on tests due the day after. Additionally, AJA organized two flight groups, which AJA students could join to travel to the rally with peers and chaperones. All in all, 40 AJA high schoolers demonstrated in D.C. with 15 of them traveling with AJA flight groups.

Although he wishes more students could have attended, Head of School Rabbi Levitt is glad so many students were able to be at the march. For him, it represented a significant moment in students’ education. He said, “For our high school students to have had the experience of gathering on the mall with the vast number of Jews that assembled and to hear those speeches and to say those chants and to be part of the tefillot (prayers) and to sing along with the Yshai Ribo and the Maccabees, that’s an important part of foundational Jewish identity.” Rabbi Levitt hopes that having had the opportunity to demonstrate with other Jews for something they believe in will “crystalize that sense of ‘I’m part of something bigger’” for AJA students.

AJA senior Yaacov Shuman, who arranged his own flight to the rally with the help of the organization StandWithUs, experienced that feeling of being part of something larger in the crowd. “I just really wanted to be able to share in that kind of communal experience with so many, almost 300,000 Jews,” he said.

For him and many other high school students, going to the rally was appealing because it provided a unique opportunity to take action related to the war in Israel. “I care about Israel and wanted to be able to show my support,” said senior Leora Frank, who flew to the rally with an AJA flight group. To express this support for Israel, many AJA students wore hats that said “ATL ♥️ ISR,” provided by the Jewish Federation of Atlanta.

They weren’t the only ones in the crowd dressed up. Hats, flags, and t-shirts expressing support for Israel were visible throughout the crowd. Many demonstrators also carried signs, most often kidnapped posters of specific hostages held by Hamas. Some raised and wore American or Israeli flags. One man with an Israeli-flag cape had the pictures of babies kidnapped by Hamas taped all over the front of his shirt. 

Although the crowd was often active, frequently chanting “Am Yisrael Chai,” “Bring the Home,” “Never Again is Now,” and occasionally “No Ceasefire,” most of the event consisted of listening to speakers. 

Speakers included the families of hostages, congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle, pro-Israel celebrities, former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, and Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. Special Envoy to Combat Antisemitism. They each explored in their speeches different goals of the march, most often condemning rising antisemitism on campus, telling the stories of children held hostage by Hamas, and expressing support for Israel’s war with Hamas. 

The diversity of speakers was a particularly meaningful component of the march for sophomore Hila Ben-Yaacov, who flew to it with an AJA flight group. “Different people came to speak, even those who weren’t Jewish and who had different beliefs, but everyone came together,” she said. Attending the march herself was a no-brainer for Hila. “I could and there was no reason not to,” she said.

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