Tuesday, November 14 started well before dawn as cars started rolling into the parking lot of the Livingston Mall at about 5:15. Community members arrived to a bustling scene as they went through security bag checks, showed their IDs, received security bracelets, and shuffled onto buses. Each bus had been cleared by explosive detection K9 units and each would also carry a security guard, highly attuned to recognize and react to suspicious behavior.
The same scenario was taking place in dark parking lots in Westfield and at the JEC in Elizabeth.
By the time the sun rose, more than 2,000 members of our community – including nearly 850 day school students – were off on this journey together, very excited and also a little anxious about what to expect.
At around 10:30, the buses began pulling into the parking lot of the now-defunct RFK Stadium. Groups disembarked, we were each handed a pre-paid Metro card, supplied by JFNA, and began the short walk to the nearby station. D.C. police officers lined the route, kindly pointing us in the right direction and helping calm our nerves.
Just a short ride away, we ascended at the National Mall, surrounded by the majestic buildings of the Smithsonian and nearly 300,000 other Jews (and allies), heading in the same direction.
Though the event was touted as a march, there wasn’t any marching to be had. We all worked our way toward the stage, situated impressively in front of the Capitol. It truly was as awe-inspiring location where many of our forefathers and mothers stood up for the causes they believed in – civil rights, Soviet Jewry, and the like.
We found a spot and settled in for the next few hours as we listened to impassioned speakers share their personal stories. Actors, activists, politicians, musicians, students, and, most impactful, the families of those who were kidnapped on October 7. Each one communicated a message of Jewish pride, love for Israel (Am Yisrael Chai!) unity, strength, and determination to free the hostages (Bring Them Home!).
The weather was perfect, the anti-Israel presence was nearly non-existent, and the atmosphere was electric and comforting at the same time.
We made our way back to the buses, still under the protective watch of local law enforcement, and headed back to New Jersey inspired, invigorated… and exhausted.
This day was unlike any other, an incredible journey that we shared in solidarity with hundreds of thousands of Jews, in person and watching remotely, around the world. I imagine that each of us will continue to process the experience in the days and weeks to come and remember it for the rest of our lives. I feel tremendous pride that our Federation was instrumental in making this all possible.
Below are just some of the many reflections we heard from participants.
It was a beautiful, moving, heartwarming, food for the soul kind of day!
I felt such love today. And I’m going to keep this feeling with me and remember it in the difficult days ahead.
I needed this for my soul. It was incredible to be with our people without apologies.
Such a successful day of showing support!… My Israeli peeps watching the broadcast were so moved by the magnitude and feeling.
I was hesitant to go but am so glad I decided to… I hope we can make a difference.
Always proud to be Jewish but after today, I’m even prouder!
The love, the solidarity and support are undeniable. Israel may be a small nation, but she has a big family, and her children love her.
It didn’t matter what denomination, background, religion, traditions people had, we were one big community.
What inspired me today was so many people coming together to fight for the unity of the Jewish people.
I was blown away by our youth. The poise of all the young adult Jewish leaders fills me with hope.
Experiencing the commitment and caring of our community at today’s event really filled me up…. We are stronger together!
300,000 people singing Hatikvah was an amazing experience.