(July 19, 2021 / JNS)
In my capacity as the director of the nonprofit group Alliance for Israel, I hear many stories from across the United States of people who have been ostracized and attacked for their public displays of Judaism and Zionism. Hearing those stories, coupled with the more violent attacks that made national headlines, I recognized that grave dangers faced the Jewish community. However, it was the threat from within that troubled me more.
Despite egregious physical and verbal attacks against Jews that warranted swift and unequivocal condemnation, the Jewish community appeared to be divided in its views of when and how to respond. The result was a fragmented community suffering from internal discord and low morale—a vulnerable target for those wishing to do it harm.
It was this fear that prompted me to act: With the help of two colleagues, I began to organize a rally, despite having no funding, being in the middle of a hot Washington summer and having been warned that only a few hundred people would attend. We incorporated a slogan into the name of the rally, calling it “No Fear: A Rally in Solidarity With the Jewish People.”
Within a few weeks of planning, we were contacted by Elisha Wiesel, who had just written an op-ed calling for Jews to speak up against anti-Semitism and who offered to support our efforts. We soon became a collaborative team, enacting substantial changes to the original plans in an effort to broaden the coalition politically and denominationally. Due to Wiesel’s contacts, effort and skill, by rally day, our list of co-sponsors included The Republican Jewish Coalition and the Jewish Democratic Council of America, the Orthodox Union, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Union for Reform Judaism. He also implemented a public relations campaign to present the re-imagined rally and to publicize the event as widely as possible in the short time that remained.
Three thousand people attended our rally on July 11, from Washington; California; Arizona; Texas; Wisconsin; Ohio; Florida; North Carolina; Tennessee; Massachusetts; Pennsylvania; New York; Rhode Island; New Jersey; and Canada. Significant numbers also watched the rally online.
In the days following the rally, I have received numerous emails and other messages from attendees who have shared with me how impactful the experience was for them. Lissa Kenkel wrote, “It meant so much to me to show my children that it’s OK to be proud to be Jewish and to speak up for themselves and others. It was a hot day, but it was an empowering and wonderful day.” Leah Jacobson wrote, “The rally gave me hope.”
Others have written to ask when the next “No Fear” event will take place. In the words of Boston resident Michelle Herman, “I think it was a great start and people are starting to wake up. It’s sparked so many around the country.”
As the head of a grassroots organization, I am encouraged. I have great faith in what individuals can achieve when they come together with a common purpose and a shared goal, as our rally indicated. More importantly, it will, perhaps, continue to help unite segments of our fractured and demoralized community that are confronting anti-Semitic violence, vandalism, and vitriol and that are still searching for hope.
Melissa Landa is a former professor of education at the University of Maryland with a background in cross-cultural competence and anti-bias education. She is the founding director of Alliance for Israel, a Maryland-based nonprofit that opposes BDS activity in schools and communities, and that provides education about Israel’s multi-ethnic society.
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