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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

March for Israel in D.C. expected to draw thousands at the National Mall

Every day, Rachel Goldberg tears off a new piece of masking tape and writes down how many days it has been since her son, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, was abducted by Hamas militants. Then, she places it on her chest.

On Tuesday, it will read “39” as she speaks to the thousands of people gathered on the National Mall at a rally to show solidarity with Israel, condemn antisemitism and demand the release of about 240 hostages, including her 23-year-old son.

“I feel like people are not realizing that time goes by,” Goldberg said in an interview ahead of the rally, “wearing the number is also something that makes people uncomfortable. And I feel like that’s my job now, to make people feel uncomfortable that they’re not doing enough to get these innocent people out of the bowels of the Earth.”

Here’s what to know about the pro-Israel rally in D.C. on Tuesday

The “March for Israel” rally, organized by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, comes amid a deepening war in Gaza. Goldberg is expected to be among the speakers, who will also include other relatives of people taken hostage by Hamas, bipartisan congressional leaders, college students, actress Debra Messing, Broadway actress Tovah Feldshuh and Rochelle Ford, the president of Dillard University.

Thousands of people are expected to head to the nation’s capital from across the country, with many traveling by bus or flying from as far away as California. Organizers anticipate that 100,000 people will attend the event on the National Mall, according to a permit issued by the National Park Service.

“We expect there to be a massive crowd that will engage on these issues and ensure that America knows where we stand,” said William Daroff, chief executive of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Goldberg has told her family’s nightmare every chance she can in hopes that her voice can help bring her son and the other hostages home. She has shared how what was supposed to be a fun weekend at the Tribe of Nova music festival ended with Goldberg-Polin’s arm blown off from the elbow down; an improvised tourniquet; and Hamas militants loading him into a pickup truck and driving off. Israeli police traced the last signal from his cellphone to the border with Gaza.

His last messages to his mom were “I love you guys,” and then, “I’m sorry.”

Her son, who was born in Berkeley, Calif., had backpacked across Europe by himself over the summer, heading to trance music festivals, camping and washing his clothes in rivers and making friends along the way. Even at a young age, he was interested in learning more about the world. His parents gave him a National Geographic subscription for kids when he was in elementary school. But by the third grade, his mother said, he said he was ready for the more advanced, adult edition.

She described her son as a “super curious, laid back, fun-loving, voraciously well-read, wanderlust motivated music-lover” and a “pursuer of peace.” She added: “Although I hate his music, I love him.”

Goldberg is calling for an international humanitarian organization to check on the well-being of those who remain, including soldiers, civilians, grandparents and 33 children. She called it “deplorable” that there has not been aid provided to these hostages who are clearly in need of help.

Families of Israeli hostages travel to D.C. to plead for release

Biden swiftly supported Israel after Hamas militants broke through Israel’s border on Oct. 7, abducting about 240 people and killing 1,200 people during the attack. Hamas is the governing authority in Gaza and is viewed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

Since then, more than 11,000 people in Gaza have been killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Rabbi Ari Berman, president of Yeshiva University in New York, said that undergraduate and high school classes would be canceled the day of the rally and that more than 2,500 students would be attending.

Harassment, vandalism and assaults against Jews soared by nearly 400 percent during the weeks after the Hamas attack, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, which catalogues antisemitic, white-supremacist and other hate-driven incidents and is promoting the march on its website.

Colleges braced for antisemitism and violence. It’s happening.

“There are times that history shows you an invitation to participate in its unfolding, and this is one of those times,” Berman said in an interview ahead of the rally. “We stand against hate, hate in our society and hate on college campuses. And we stand together for Israel.”

Half of registered voters in the United States approve of Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attack, while 35 percent disapprove, according to Quinnipiac University polling released earlier this month. However, these views vary sharply by partisanship, race and age, with the lowest approval seen among Democrats (33 percent), voters ages 18 to 34 (32 percent) and Black voters (29 percent).

At the same time, the polling shows, 51 percent of voters support the United States sending more military aid to Israel, and 71 percent of voters support providing humanitarian aid to help Palestinians in Gaza.

Among Americans killed or missing in Israel: A scholar, a nurse, tourists

Goldberg and her family moved to Israel about 15 years ago to live in a place where the majority of people are Jewish. There, they didn’t have to struggle to find a kosher restaurant. Her son, Goldberg-Polin, wasn’t the only kid in class with a kippah. Classmates’ birthday parties were no longer all on Saturdays during Shabbat.

“I love that my kids speak Hebrew and that they feel comfortable in their skin here,” Goldberg said. “Hopefully they’ll keep feeling that way. Hopefully Hersh will feel that way, God willing, when he comes home.”

Israel-Gaza war

Gaza’s largest hospital, al-Shifa, “is not functioning” after days without power, water or reliable internet, the World Health Organization said. Understand what’s behind the Israel-Gaza war.

Hostages: Officials say Hamas militants abducted about 239 hostages in a highly organized attack. Four hostages have been released — two Americans and two Israelis — as families hold on to hope. One released Israeli hostage recounted the “spiderweb” of Gaza tunnels she was held in.

Humanitarian aid: The Palestine Red Crescent Society said it has received over 370 trucks with food, medicine and water in the Gaza Strip through Egypt’s Rafah crossing. However, the PRCS said, there hasn’t been permission yet to bring in fuel to power the enclave’s hospitals, water pumps, taxis and more.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has a complicated history, and its rulers have long been at odds with the Palestinian Authority, the U.S.-backed government in the West Bank. Here is a timeline of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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