Judaism has always been a key part of my life and my Jewish journey is quite a unique story. I wasn’t born and raised Jewish. I joined AEPi as a freshman at Kent State University and fell in love with the fraternity for its brotherhood and Jewish values. Though I was heavily involved, and the culture and religion became an integral part of my collegiate life, it wasn’t until 2020 that I made the decision to convert to Judaism while working for the fraternity. It was one of the proudest moments of my life and I have my Brothers to thank for guiding me every step of the way. Now, I work for BBYO—the leading pluralistic Jewish teen movement—and help its members find their voice as our next generation of Jewish leaders. I think it’s fascinating how my decision to join a Jewish fraternity just over a decade ago has left such a lasting impact on who I am today.
When I was asked to write on my experience at the March for Israel rally in Washington, DC, I found myself struggling to find the right words. How do you encapsulate a historical event like this—where 290,000 people gathered on the National Mall, and hundreds of thousands more were watching online—in what will be known as the largest Jewish gathering in modern history?
The last 41 days have been nothing short of a tragedy for the Jewish people. I think I speak for all my Brothers when I say that October 7 will be felt for the rest of our lives, and we will never forget the atrocities that Hamas committed against Israel and her people that day. The emotional toll feels overwhelming most days, like a scar that will never heal. Every day I’m grappling with how I feel, pulling myself through a cycle of grief, anger, and fear. November 14 was the first time I felt hope in several weeks.
I was myself again—if only for a brief moment—and I’ll hold onto that feeling for decades to come.
There really is no way to fully articulate how the rally filled my heart other than describing it as the most moving experience for me as a Jew since my Birthright Israel trip with Shorashim last fall. For the first time in what felt like an eternity, I was comfortable in my own skin. I proudly walked with my coworkers and BBYO teens from our office to the mall. I admit I had my worries in the days leading up to this moment because social media is a dark place right now. My feed has been filled with stories of the rising antisemitic incidents happening across the globe and calls for the end of Israel from people who I considered close friends. My worries melted away as soon as I walked through security and made my way to the front of the pro-Israel rally because what I found was completely the opposite.
I saw Jews of all backgrounds arm-in-arm around each other, holding signs for peace on both sides. I heard powerful speeches from students and influencers, as well as bipartisan messages of support from members of Congress. I cried while singing Acheinu and Hatikvah, hearing the crowd’s voice rise in unison. I prayed for the families who spoke about their loved ones—a total of 239 people—being held hostage in Gaza. I laughed. I danced. I took everything that had been bottled up for the last month and half, embraced it, and released it. Together, we were one people, lifting each other up and collectively feeling emotion through our unwavering support for Israel. Lately, it has been incredibly difficult to find community, but in this moment of pure bliss I knew I was amongst friends. I proudly wore my AEPi kippah throughout the day and had my Israeli pride flag draped around my shoulders, something I’ve never felt confident doing outside of Israel. Columbia University student Noa Fay said a few things that truly resonated with and moved me at the rally. She said, “Resilience is what marks our legacy…nothing at all can splinter the Jewish soul…We shall not tremble in fear, our Stars of David will shine on our chests and in our hearts…We fight loudly and we fight peacefully. We are far from helpless, we are far from hopeless.”
As I sit and reflect on my experience, the reality is slowly setting in again. Antisemitism still rears its ugly head in communities and on college campuses, counter protests are making the headlines, and people I know are still posting their one-sided opinion without consideration for how it’s affecting their Jewish friends like me. The rally may be over, but my work has just begun. I can’t explain it, but standing in solidarity for Israel this week reignited my passion for the work I do as a Jewish professional and gave me the energy I need to carry on. Time and time again, the Jewish people have endured hardships that threaten our very existence, but we always persevere and come back stronger than before. To my AEPi Brothers and Jewish friends reading this, you’re not alone. It may seem this way when you’re doom scrolling your social feeds or fighting what seems like an endless uphill battle, but the March for Israel has taught me that we cannot remain silent. We must stand strong and steadfast, letting our voice be heard.
Am Yisrael Chai!