Israel

Large numbers of Haredim join thousands of all stripes at DC rally to support Israel

Bus caravans arrived from Brooklyn, NY, and Lakewood, NJ, but some Haredim stayed away — with one rabbi calling the rally "anti-productive"

Haredi attendees at Tuesday's rally in DC. Credit: Eli Feldblum

Nov 14, 2023 8:30 PM

Updated: 

Tzivia Jacobson has lived in Brooklyn for decades, but she’d never been to Washington, D.C., before her trip to the rally in support of Israel on Tuesday. “I’m an old lady, and everyone said, ‘You’re going?’’ Jacobson told Shtetl. ‘I said, ‘Yes, I’m going.’”

Jacobson was one of hundreds of people who traveled from Crown Heights on Tuesday on a caravan of buses headed to a pro-Israel rally in D.C. Despite the historical reluctance of Haredi people to align themselves with Zionists and secular Jews, a sizable group of Haredim from a variety of backgrounds joined the event, encouraged to do so by some prominent Haredi organizations, such as Agudath Israel of America and the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council. The latter organization gathered 500 people traveling on 10 buses, according to an estimate by its executive director, Rabbi Eliyahu Cohen. 

Agudah encouraged people to attend the rally, too, according to the Yeshiva World News. “In light of the ongoing life-threatening danger confronting Israeli soldiers and all of our dear brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel, and with great concern about the extremely volatile political climate here in the United States, we feel it is important” to attend the rally, a message from the organization said.

Tens of thousands of people participated in the rally, which was meant to support Israel and raise awareness of hostages taken by Hamas during their Oct. 7 surprise attack. In order to attract so many people, the event organizers cast a wide net, and eased the minds of Haredi leaders worried about possible secular influence. But some Haredim still stayed home, including Agudah rabbi Yitzchok Sorotzkin.

“These demonstrations are anti-productive,” Sorotzkin said on Thursday, despite being a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, a board of rabbis that advise Agudah.

Other Haredi rabbis encouraged attendance. “Assurances have been made to us that there will be a general commitment to halachic standards, including but not limited to respecting our sense of modesty,” rabbis from a Hasidic rabbinical court said, according to COLlive, a news site covering the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic community.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, helped organize the rally Hoenlein said that while nobody was given instructions about what to wear or not wear, he hoped that since it is a cold time of year, protesters would dress in a way that won’t offend Haredi Jews. “Obviously, we can’t monitor what everybody wears,” he told Shtetl on Monday.

Haredi communities have complicated relationships with the State of Israel. Some Haredim oppose Zionism because of the Israeli government’s secular orientation and because they believe that the Jewish people should wait for the arrival of the Messiah before establishing a Jewish state.

“Am I a Zionist? I don’t know,” said Rabbi Reuven Novack, who traveled to D.C. with a bus caravan coming from the largely Haredi community of Lakewood, New Jersey. “When you come here, it’s an expression of love for each other,” said Novack, who was a member of the Jewish Defense League, a far-right religious political organization founded in 1968 by Orthodox rabbi Meir Kahane. 

Moshe Glixman, a Litvish man who drove to the rally from Flatbush, said he was horrified by the Oct. 7 attack. “We can’t allow anything like that to ever happen to us again,” he said. “I’m unequivocally in support of Israel.”

But while many Haredim came to the event from Crown Heights and Lakewood, as well as Borough Park, people from other Haredi areas seemed to be absent. David Kirschtel, the CEO of JCC Rockland, told Shtetl there were 22 organizations in the county sponsoring buses to the rally — but none of those organizations was Haredi-affiliated, despite the large Haredi presence in the town of Ramapo.

Lauren Hakimi is a journalist whose work has appeared in The Forward, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, New York Jewish Week, WNYC/Gothamist and more. She graduated from CUNY Hunter College with degrees in history and English literature. Hailing from an Iranian Jewish community on Long Island, she looks forward to shining a light on stories that matter to the Jewish community. Follow her on Twitter @lauren_hakimi.