With a cast holding up his left arm, Rabbi Shlomo Noginsky, 41, of Boston, spoke in Hebrew at a rally against anti-Semitism on Sunday in Washington. “I was born in the Soviet Union, in the city of St. Petersburg; I remember how even as a young child I experienced terrible anti-Semitism. Never in my darkest dreams did I imagine that I would experience it here in the United States.”
A teacher at the Shaloh House, the Chabad-run day school, community center, and summer camp, he was approached by Khaled Awad, who pointed a gun at the rabbi and ordered him into a van. When he ran, the attacker stabbed him eight times before fleeing. “From across the world, hundreds of thousands prayed for my well-being, expressed their concern, and supported me and my family.”
Billed as “No Fear: A Rally in Solidarity with the Jewish People,” the rally’s roster of organizers represented a “big tent” that spanned the political spectrum, with the Republican Jewish Coalition, and the Jewish Democratic Council of America, along with the Jewish Federations of North America, the American Jewish Committee, B’nai Brith International, and the Jewish National Fund, among others. The Orthodox Union and the National Council of Young Israel were among the religious organizations promoting the event.
“None of us should need to be at a rally against anti-Semitism in 2021,” said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. “But we do need to be here. Because we must again respond to vile rhetoric and physical attacks, and to and symbols of hatred against our people.”
The rally’s sponsors and message echoed an earlier event that took place in January 2020, when thousands marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to demonstrate against anti-Semitism. At both events, the big-tent message extended beyond the Jewish community with elected officials, media personalities, non-Jewish clergy, and labor leaders.
At Sunday’s rally, Joshua Washington spoke as a Black pro-Israel activist. “Do not concede a single inch of your humanity, of your identity, because the moment that you do that, you’ve already lost.” He noted that the leading figures in the civil rights struggle and in popular culture, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Bayard Rustin, Rosa Parks, Hank Aaron, Count Basie, Arthur Ashe, and A. Philip Randolph, all spoke out against anti-Semitism and in support of Israel. “In fact, Bayard Rustin founded the Black Americans to Support Israel Committee and I stand on his shoulders today as I speak to you.”
Jeffrey Myers, the rabbi of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, spoke of the Declaration of Independence that was celebrated last week across the country and American values. “To be an anti-Semite means that you do not accept that pact of being an American.”
He then spoke of the parshiyos ha’shavua, Matos-Mas’ei. “BaMidbar starts really messy. Uprisings, arguments – a really sloppy book. But at the end of the book, they’re united in purpose for one goal, to enter the Promised Land. We call this land artzos ha’bris, the land of the covenant. If you live here, you’re part of that covenant, to accept what it means to be an American.”
Washington shared the podium with Menachem Creditor, a Conservative rabbi who serves as the scholar-in-residence at the UJA-Federation of New York. Together they sang “Kol HaOlam Kulo” with the rally participants. “Even when there is reason to be afraid, we do not stand afraid,” he said. “We don’t vote the same way and we stand with one heart.”
Erika Moritsugu, Deputy Assistant to President Joe Biden [ed. note: the Asian American and Pacific Islander liaison for the White House], spoke on his behalf, thanking the many sponsoring organizations and noting her past work for one of them, the Anti-Defamation League, where she was on the community engagement team. “Jewish Americans are an essential part of our American story. Jewish Americans have maintained their bond with tradition while building a vibrant and distinctive American Jewish identity,” she said. Some of the participants did not cheer her speech, noting that she failed to name the specific examples of recent anti-Semitism within her party.
Elisha Wiesel, son of the Nobel laureate author Elie Wiesel, thanked her and the Biden administration for recognizing the event. “We can disagree, even passionately, without being divided. We can even disagree on Israel – the issue that our enemies rejoice in seeing it become a wedge for us in this country.”
Meghan McCain, daughter of the late Sen. John McCain, spoke against the popularity of anti-Semitism on social media. “We cannot be quiet, we cannot be silent, and first and foremost above all else, we cannot be scared. I’m here to tell all of you, you’re not alone,” she said. “I’m not Jewish, but I can see how scary it is.” McCain also spoke about her attendance at the event on the nationally syndicated daytime television show, “The View,” where, together with the support of co-host Whoopi Goldberg, she spoke against the rise in antisemitism.
An outspoken Republican, albeit critical of former President Donald Trump, McCain receives plenty of ridicule online from Jewish leftists for her solidarity with Israel and speaking out on anti-Semitism. These activists were notably absent from the rally, which they cited as a Zionist event that attempted to cast opposition to Israel as anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Shlomo Litvin, a Chabad shliach in Kentucky, spoke of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s answer to anti-Semitism: increasing one’s Jewish pride. “We should never be embarrassed and never attempt to hide who we are. We can only fool ourselves. The world knows who we are,” he said. “The Rebbe said these words in 1960, and they are as true today as they were then.”
Among the local participants was a bus from the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates with 36 members, which returned home in the late evening. “People understood that there was a problem,” said shul president Dr. Harold Biller. “Everybody was there and it was a wonderful thing to see.” He noted that the short notice and hot weather did not fill the National Mall in front of the Capitol, but the speakers made an impression. “They spoke from the heart, and it was meaningful. Everybody who was there brought energy to the rally,” he said.
Taking the pro-Israel feel of the rally to the local level, Dr. Biller added that as the pandemic prevented the annual 5K run in Jamaica Estates this past spring, it is being rescheduled for October, with the funds going to Israel.
In total, some 3,000 people stood in front of the Capitol on Sunday, which is not large by Washington standards, taking into account the short notice and hot weather. Another 13,000 joined virtually. Rabbi Dov Lerner, rav of the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates, noted that this rally, like any other, is best judged by its impact, the activism that follows the event. He thanked his congressman, Greg Meeks, for attending a ceremony at the embassy in Jerusalem last week, noting that with hostility towards Israel among some members of his party, “[He] needs our chizuk and appreciation.”
“It was a herculean effort to stand in the scorching heat to stand for the cause. I encourage more people to engage. It was uplifting to represent the Queens Jewish community,” said Rabbi Dov Lerner, who attended the rally with his shul. “We have to draw our line in the sand. There is a lot of work to do for our community to do proactive constructive efforts with our neighbors.”
By Sergey Kadinsky