Like many Jews across the country, some 2,500 Yeshiva University students, faculty and staff rose early on Nov. 14 to head to Washington, D.C., for the “March for Israel” rally, which reportedly drew nearly 300,000 people to the National Mall.
Many Yeshiva University students attended packed morning prayer services at 5:15 a.m. before more than 1,500 undergraduates, nearly 200 grad students, more than 100 faculty and staff members, and 600 students and faculty members from YU’s high schools boarded 44 buses bound for the nation’s capital.
“Participating in this—the largest unified showing of American and Jewish support for Israel—is absolutely essential to what it means to be Yeshiva University,” Jonathan Schwab, director of YU’s student life office, told JNS.
“This isn’t an extracurricular activity. This is the curriculum,” he said. “I’m incredibly proud as a YU alumnus and member of the administration at the tremendous motivation of so many of our students, who saw the necessity of participating.”
YU organized the attendance of the 2,500 people on short notice, and it took joint efforts of many colleagues over the course of 10 days to organize the showing in Washington, said Schwab.
Torah study on the bus goes …
On many of the buses, rabbinic faculty—what YU calls roshei yeshivah, literally “heads of school”—delivered Talmud lectures during the more than four-hour drives each way. Speaking via microphones at the front of the bus, they delved deeply into ancient and medieval texts, which they addressed in the original Hebrew and Aramaic, as students followed along in their own copies.
Sage Friedman, a YU senior from Baltimore, told JNS that it was “incredibly powerful and inspiring” to hear Rabbi Mordechai Willig lecture for nearly 10 hours on his bus.
One of YU’s most prominent rabbinic leaders, Willig shared anecdotes and some humor in his lectures, during which he framed the rally “as a direct fulfillment of our Torah values and vision,” Friedman said.
“The direct involvement of leadership to the highest degree in our community reflected that this trip was in no way to be interpreted as a concession of values but instead a direct fulfillment of God’s will,” he stated.
Moshe Nasser, a senior from Passaic, N.J., also found it meaningful to have rabbis join students on the buses and share Torah thoughts. “As Jews and YU students, we traveled to D.C. not only for the rally but also to live out our values every minute of the trip and every moment of our lives,” he told JNS.
Noting the interfaith support
Many of the students at Yeshiva University, whose undergraduate student body of about 2,200 is largely Orthodox, told JNS that they appreciated the support for Israel and Jews that came from prominent non-Jews at the rally.
Its graduate schools, however, are not overwhelmingly Orthodox. YU used to rank around the top 50 in U.S. News & World Report, but lately, it has hovered just beyond 100.
Undergraduate campuses are divided between a Midtown Manhattan campus for women (Stern College) and one for men in Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan.
Several students, who didn’t give their names, told JNS that Pastor John Hagee’s speech was the best of the rally or among the most compelling; he is the founder and chairman of Christians United for Israel. Others expressed appreciation for the evangelical showing at the rally.
“It was incredible to see even random people, even non-Jews, especially a lot of Christians, coming to support us,” Sam Orenbakh, 20, a sophomore from the Five Towns, told JNS.
“There was a lot of achdus,” said Josh Miller, a junior at YU, using the Hebrew word for “unity,” citing the “different types of Jews and non-Jews supporting Israel.”