WASHINGTON — Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, “our anxiety has grown over the past weeks so tremendously,” said Michael Lorge on Tuesday, one of many from the Chicago area at the March for Israel on the National Mall, a rally that saw thousands show unity with Israel in its war against Hamas, push for the return of Hamas-held hostages and deplore rising antisemitism.
And a way to do that, Lorge said, “was to come together in massive numbers to find strength and to speak out loudly.”
Lorge, an attorney — the son and father of rabbis — came to Washington for the rally with a contingent from Temple Beth Israel in Skokie, including its rabbi, Rachel Marks.
The event was co-sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and comes as the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza is sparking a surge in antisemitism, igniting fears never before experienced by generations of American Jews.
Some 1,200 Israelis were brutally murdered by Hamas militants on Oct. 7 and about 240 were taken hostage that day, including Hersh Goldberg-Polin. The death toll among Palestinians in Gaza from Israeli bombardment since Oct. 7 has topped 11,000, according to Palestinian officials.
Goldberg-Polin’s parents, Jon Polin and Rachel Goldberg grew up in West Rogers Park and Skokie and now live in Jerusalem. His grandmothers live in Chicago and Evanston.
Goldberg was one of the speakers at the rally. She pleaded for the hostages to not be forgotten. “We hostage families have lived the last 39 days in slow motion torment,” she told the crowd. “…We all have third degree burns on our souls.”
“Why is the world accepting that 240 human beings from almost 30 countries have been stolen and buried alive,” she said a reference to the extensive Hamas tunnel system under Gaza.
She led a chant: “Bring them home now!”
Members of Goldberg’s extended Chicago family were at the rally, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who represents Skokie and Evanston.
Lonnie Nasatir, the CEO and president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, told the Sun-Times an estimated 2,000 people from the Chicago area came to Washington for the rally. The federation chartered three airplanes — two from Midway Airport and another from O’Hare — and subsidized train fares.
Nasatir said the Chicago group included about 100 students active in their Hillel campus organizations at schools in Illinois.
One of the most problematic issues developing in recent weeks has been dealing with antisemitism at universities. There are many things going on at once in a very complicated situation: Israel has a right to defend itself. At the same time, the number of Palestinian civilian casualties is soaring as Israeli military strikes aim to destroy Hamas networks hidden under civilian structures in densely populated Gaza.
Nasatir said the rally was an opportunity “for Chicago Jews to come to the nation’s capital to support Israel, to denounce antisemitism and demand that the hostages be released.”
Hollis Wein, the executive director of JACPAC – a national political action committee based in Highland Park, came to Washington with a group from her organization. A primary aim, she said, “was to let the world know what is going on. Hamas is a blight on humanity.”
Among Illinois’ 17 House members, the two Jewish members in the delegation are Schakowsky and Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., who both were at the rally.
Schakowsky said the rally was “very satisfying for a lot of people from the community who have been so concerned, wrapped up in issues (dealing with) antisemitism.”
Schneider said, “I think we accomplished a show of unity, a statement to the American people, to the world to the folks in Israel, that we stand with Israel in its fight against Hamas.
“And we stand on the right side of history in the battle between a civilization and barbarism and we stand against antisemitism and hate.”
For rally attendee Sharon Schwartz, who lives in Skokie and is the director of operations at the Chicago Torah Network, the plight of the hostages — especially Hersh, who is 23 — is personal.
Schwartz met Hersh’s mother, Rachel, in eighth grade “and we became instant best friends.” Jon Polin was Schwartz’s brother’s friend “and he was in our house all through growing up.” Schwartz has met Hersh when he would visit family in Chicago.
Schwartz, who has relatives living in Israel, came to the rally “for all Israel, for all Jewish people but I really came for Hersh,” whose left arm was blown off in a bunker as he was taken. His condition is unknown.
Said Schwartz, “I can’t believe the world is not screaming for his and all of their release.”