It comes after reports that antisemitic incidents in the D.C. region rose to an all-time high in 2020, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a group that has tracked such reports since 1979. Nationally, the organization said the 1,242 reports of harassment in 2020 represents an increase of 10 percent over 2019, while reported acts of vandalism and assault declined by 18 percent and 49 percent, respectively.
“We are here today because we care deeply and profoundly about Jewish life and Jewish values,” Wiesel told the crowd. “We can disagree, even passionately, without being divided. We can even disagree on Israel — the issue that our enemies rejoice in seeing it become a wedge for us in this country.”
The event also drew attendees from outside the Washington region who said they have witnessed a rise in antisemitism. Saul Guberman of New York said he attended the rally with a friend, David Kerner, after seeing social media posts about the event.
“I worked in Manhattan, and I can tell you that Manhattan used to be a very pro-Israel and pro-Jewish place, and it’s not as much anymore,” Guberman said. “I get a lot of antisemitic comments.”
Kerner said a synagogue near his residence in New York was recently found with a bullet inside that had come through the glass. An event like that “hasn’t happened in a long time,” Kerner said.
Natalie Rozet, 28, was standing in the crowd Sunday afternoon, holding an Israeli flag. She walked from her home in the District to participate in the rally because she said there’s been “a huge rise” in antisemitic attacks rooted in a misunderstanding of the Jewish people and their support for Israel.
While the event and its speakers displayed goals of unity, there was a brief moment of tension.
Two people with signs that read “Palestine = occupation” got into disagreements with attendees who were critical of the viewpoint. Before the first speaker took the stage, a woman followed a group of Orthodox Jews, yelling at them, “Shame on you!” before D.C. police intervened and asked her to step away.
Attendees noted a connectivity among those who came, with people laughing as they stood in the shade. A Holocaust survivor using a walker shared her story with attendees.
“It’s heartening to see so many people come out,” Kerner said. “It’s a cross-section of the Jewish community and non-Jews expressing solidarity.”
As the event came to a close, the organizer asked everyone to stand together. In unity, hundreds of voices sang in front of the Capitol, “I’m a Jew and I’m proud.”