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July 22, 2021 12:27 pm
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Lessons From the ‘No FEAR’ Rally

avatar by Melissa Landa

Opinion

A group from Boston at the “No Fear: A Rally in Solidarity With the Jewish People” on the National Mall in Washington, DC, July 11, 2021. Credit: Chris Kleponis.

It has been 11 days since the “NO FEAR Rally in Solidarity with the Jewish People” took place in front of the United States Capitol, and much has been written about the event. It is now time to reflect on what we, as a Jewish community, can learn from the rally itself and from the range of reactions that have appeared in the press.

First, in the weeks leading up to the event, we received numerous inquiries about the security protocols that would be in place at the rally. People were concerned about violent counter-protestors — and, as rally organizers, so were we. As we considered the site for the stage and audience, security was our number one consideration, and we did our best to assure those that inquired that the rally would be safe.

Despite the anxiety about potential violence, an impressive number of people attended the rally, including those who traveled great distances to be there. Based on registrations we received, people traveled from Washington state; California; Arizona; Texas; Wisconsin; Ohio; Florida; North Carolina; Tennessee; Massachusetts; Pennsylvania; New York; Rhode Island; New Jersey; and Canada. They came together as proud and confident Jews, displaying Israeli flags and other signs of Jewish identity.

Next, many of those who chose not to attend due to fears of violence or COVID, or due to the heat, watched the rally on-line in significant numbers.

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A week after the rally, our Facebook live stream had been watched more than 33,000 times and the YouTube video had more than 13,000 hits. And the number of individuals who watched online is even greater, since we know that people gathered in synagogues to watch together. Clearly, the theme of the rally resonated with large numbers of American Jews, who are seeking a feeling of solidarity.

Third, as the list of co-sponsors indicated, Jewish organizations from across the political and denominational spectrum joined together to speak out against antisemitism. Our list of co-sponsors included the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Jewish Democratic Council of America; and the Orthodox Union, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and the Union for Reform Judaism. The broad coalition that we formed can and should continue to work together to address the antisemitism that is plaguing American society, because many remain anxious and in need of leadership.

Additionally, in the days following the rally, I received numerous emails and other messages from attendees, who have shared with me how impactful the experience was for them. One person 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.” Someone else wrote, “The rally gave me hope;” and another participant shared, “This rally was a beautiful thing … it inspired courage and brought us together … we are unified against antisemitism … it is a beginning.”

Fear is debilitating. It silences Jewish students in class when their professors engage in attacks against Israel; it causes Jews to hide their Magen Davids and compromise their religious liberties. Our “NO FEAR” slogan resonates with so many because it is liberating.

Finally, as someone who helped conceive the NO FEAR rally, I am struck by what can be achieved in a short period of time when individuals work collaboratively. Given the sense of urgency we felt, we selected July 11 to hold the rally, giving us a mere six weeks to plan. Had we given ourselves more lead time, the rally would have been much larger.

What remains to be seen is whether the rally served as a catalyst to launch a national movement. If it did, we will, perhaps, begin to see a divided and anxious community show signs of unity and 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.  She can be reached at [email protected]

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