Washington — In New York, leaders of the Jewish community made the decision to hold Monday’s massive pro-Israel rally on the Capitol grounds with only five days’ lead-time. And then they told Washington’s small army of Jewish representatives: Make it happen.
And that’s exactly what they did, coordinating everything from the 1,500 buses from up and down the East Coast to the 75 portable toilets and 10,000 bottles of water.
Hundreds of people had to walk several miles from outlying parking areas because there were not enough shuttle buses. Planners guess that more than half of the buses were from the New York area, with a heavy emphasis on Orthodox schools and synagogues.
One official who was on the ground during the event estimated that 65 to 70
percent of the crowd was Orthodox.
Buses came from as far away as Wisconsin and Missouri; there were 11 from Cleveland alone. Two activists came from Alaska.
Numerous participants made comparisons to the landmark 1987 Soviet Jewry rally on the Mall, but there was a more tangible connection. At the last minute, planners realized they did not have special identification pins for the VIPs on the platform. Then a Washington veteran, Mark Levin, director of NCSJ, a Soviet Jewry group, remembered: there was a box of pins left over from the 1987 gathering.
So on Monday, top Jewish leaders and congressional officials wore the same green pins that VIPS wore on a cold December day 15 years earlier.
Security was intense, with police searching bags and backpacks, sharpshooters on the Capitol roof — and a special protective podium brought in for former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a featured speaker.
Also because of Netanyahu, the speakers’ platform was moved up to the Capitol Terrace to make the angle harder for any potential assassin.
Israeli and American flags on the podium concealed a Kevlar shield providing added protection.
Dozens of people fainted in the 85-degree heat and were treated on the scene; more than 20 were taken to area hospitals.
Reva Price, Washington representative for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), served as CEO of the rally effort. Price acquired the rally permit, despite the fact that technically, there wasn’t enough time to meet Capitol Police regulations.
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, managed the stage, which was set on the west terrace of the Capitol, and soothed the irritated speakers and politicians who weren’t allowed to address the group.
Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, and Levin, handled crowd logistics.
Steve Rabinowitz and Matt Dorf of Rabinowitz Media produced the event, handled media and worked with the swarms of security agencies and police forces.
Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Washington representative for Chabad, helped arrange congressional speakers and entertainment, worked with airlines for extra flights and arranged for kosher food from vendors on the Mall.
Senior staffers at Hillel descended on Silver Spring stores, buying up the supply of bottled water.
The day before the rally, the Washington Jewish Federation made more than 40,000 automated calls urging local Jews to attend — a major reason for the huge crowds that tied up downtown subway lines. (The Washington Metro reportedly carried 110,000 riders on Monday, its third highest weekday ridership ever.) The group also coordinated shuttles for bus riders.
Setup for the event began at 4 a.m., with explosives-sniffing dogs searching five big trucks of equipment. There were also intricate negotiations with Americans for Tax Reform, which had a permit for a morning rally at the site. Ironically, the president of that group, Grover Norquist, is the Republican Party’s point man in outreach to Islamic groups. n