Reflections on the March for Israel

November 20, 2023 in Israel

By Sara Gordon, Beth El President.

I’m honored to kick off Beth El’s Israel blog with a few reflections from the March for Israel rally last week. I am having a hard time putting words to it. In a similar way to how I feel like I am running out of words to talk about the war in Israel, I feel like it’s hard to capture the day’s experience in words.

One thing I have clung to since October 7 is that there are elements of this nightmare that are not complicated. What happened on October 7 is clear. That the hostages are not home yet is clear. Last week, hundreds of thousands of Jews – who practice, express, and experience their Judaism differently – came together in shared purpose and focus. I read that it was the largest gathering of American Jews ever. That is unique, and uncomplicated. Organizations with different missions and visions and often who have tensions with one another worked together and made the rally happen under a shared and agreed upon umbrella. I have immense gratitude for this clarity.

My experience on Tuesday reminded me of the various times I have been to the Kotel. No matter when I go, no matter how long it has been since I have been there, every time I am there I run in to someone that I know. Usually it is someone that I have not seen in a very long time, but that doesn’t matter because we are both drawn to that space in that city. In the same way, I had the good fortune of running into many people I know from different parts of my Jewish life at the rally. Friends from our kids’ preschool days, Beth El friends, camp friends, and dear friends from my junior year abroad in Israel, some of whom have remained close friends since those days. It was when I saw them, embraced in long hugs, that I felt the profound pain of the past 40 days. In those moments I felt like we tried to hold the weight of the shared burden we are all carrying. At a visceral level, we understood each other’s love and each other’s pain for Israel.

That expression of pain was a part of the day I did not expect. I have been to a lot of rallies in Washington, DC. When I march and when I walk away, there is a feeling of defiance, of exuberance, but never before have I felt pain. While Tuesday’s March was important, fulfilling and very meaningful, I did not feel defiant or joyful. I was heartened and I was depleted. I was embraced and I was angry. And, I was not alone.

When a friend asked me how I was doing, I shrugged my shoulders, and I looked around at the sea of people. She told me about a poem by the renowned Israeli poet, Hayim Gouri, entitled, מבטיח אני .טוב יהיה —“It will be good. I promise.” There is a section of that poem that captured something of what I felt on at the rally:

?!שלומך מה
ברחוב אותי שואלים
-למיניהם אנשים
,עמי כשלום שלומי
,להם משיב אני
קצרה אנחה הם פולטים ואז
.צרה לעת כשותפים
.חמבטי אנ !יטוב יהיה

How are you?!
They ask me on the street all kinds of people – Peace be with my people, I answer them,
Then they let out a short sigh as partners in times of trouble.
It will be good! I promise.

So last week, I exchanged a lot of sighs with partners in times of trouble. I was how my people are. I was proud. I was worried. I was sad. I was grateful. I was not alone. And I prayed very hard that Hayim Gouri’s promise is realized.