By Carl Zebrowski
Almost 150 people filled the three buses in Allentown JCC parking lot early on November 14. Their destination was Washington, D.C., and the March for Israel.
It was a monumental day for members of the Lehigh Valley Jewish community, students at the local colleges and others who were making the trip to the National Mall to join an estimated 290,000 people demonstrating their support for Israel and the return of the hostages taken by Hamas.
“I was in Israel October 7 for the beginning of the war. I have children in Israel,” said Mark Notis of Allentown. “It’s a life-changing time for every Jew in the world to experience what happened, but it’s also heartwarming to see so many people come together in unity. We pray for peace.”
Lehigh Valley media, too, realized the importance of the march. A cameraman for 69 News was at the JCC filming as people boarded the buses. And inside one of those buses was a reporter from the online Lehigh Valley News, going along to get an up-close view of the Valley group on the 2-mile-long strip between the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol.
After five hours of riding the buses and navigating crowded Metro stations, Lehigh Valley community members were on the mall and listening to the first speaker pump up the crowd on behalf of Israel. “My name is Tovah Feldshuh and my Hebrew name is Tovah Feldshuh,” said the actress who began her performing career as Terri Fairchild. The crowd roared.
She reminded everyone that Hamas murdered, tortured and made hostages of Jewish civilians of all ages “only because they were Jews.” The rally, she said, was about making a collective statement against this barbarity and against antisemitism of all sorts. “We stand here to say, ‘Enough!’” she said, kicking off another round of cheers.
The march came only a month after the attacks, but it felt like a long wait. “Watching the numerous pro-Palestinian rallies has truly frightened us and created a lot of anxiety regarding our safety as Jews,” said Cherie Zettlemoyer of Allentown. “Attending this pro-Israel march and the coming together of hundreds of thousands of Jews was just what we needed to alleviate our fears and be at one with our fellow Jews.”
Feldshuh continued with the kind of talk Lehigh Valley community members had been exchanging since the first week of October. It was, in fact, the kind of talk that Jewish communities all over the United States had been exchanging.
Now, here they all were standing shoulder-to-shoulder, facing toward the stage and the domed Capitol behind it, listening to politicians and celebrities and others, crying and cheering and singing together, raising signs that spelled out their views. They were here to support Israel in large numbers in hopes of catching national attention and making a difference toward the release of the hostages and the political treatment of Israel as the war continues.
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson delivered a passionate message regarding the role of the United States government. “The calls for a ceasefire are outrageous,” he said, pledging to maintain Federal support for Israel and for continuing efforts to combat antisemitism amid the increase in incidents. “This rise of antisemitism must be stopped.”
A steady stream of speakers continued to and from the podium at center stage. Notable persons included Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, which put together the event along with the Council of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke on the TV screen from the Western Wall in Jerusalem. He thanked the crowd for coming out for the demonstration to make clear to American politicians that they need to continue to stand behind Israel.
He expressed gratitude to President Joe Biden for standing his ground on the issue. The crowd erupted with cheers and applause.
Herzog finished with a confident stance in defiance of anyone who may think of defeating the Jewish people. “We the Jewish people are eternal and no one can ever break us,” he said.
The event closed with emotional speeches by relatives of Hamas captives. The mother of Omer Neutra, a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, told his story, tearing up the eyes of many in the crowd. “He was protecting his people when he was taken hostage by Hamas,” she said. The thousands responded by chanting, “Bring them home!”
The last moment on the stage belonged to the Jewish rapper Matisyahu, who sent the crowd on its way with a boost of positivity and a jump in its step.
“I’m happy to stand with so many fellow Jews, but sorry that I have to,” Ruthie Schleifer of Bethlehem said afterward. “May the hostages be released soon.”