By Ruchama Benhamou, Managing Editor
On Thursday, October 19, 2023, I had the privilege of attending an event of Jewish and Zionist solidarity: 1,000 Strong. 1,000 Strong is a powerful symbol of resilience and unwavering determination, representing a collective commitment to preserving the memory of the victims of the war in Israel. The phrase “1,000 Strong” is not a lamentation of loss alone. It’s a resounding declaration that despite the adversities and tragedies, the Jewish community remains not just alive but vibrant and resolute. It signifies the indomitable spirit that refuses to yield to adversity or relinquish the pursuit of a homeland.
The event celebrated the State of Israel and hosted an array of insightful speakers, including New York City’s Mayor Eric Adams, co-founders, Mordechai Weiss, Jillian Weisleder Chera, and Mickael Benichou, as well as prominent Israeli activists, Adela Cojab and Debra Schwartzben. Their inspiring words showcased unwavering love and support for our nation and those protecting our homeland. The evening raised over $150,000 for four vital organizations to rebuild Israel’s war-torn infrastructure. Firstly, donations to Kibbutz Karmiya, to aid survivors of the horrific Hamas attacks living on the border of Gaza. Secondly, funds towards reservist soldiers from abroad, ensure lone soldiers currently fighting in Israel are supported. Thirdly, the organization Kol Hanearim, which offers homes and programs for children orphaned in conflicts, utilizes this endowment to bolster their efforts. Lastly, this fundraising event will facilitate Bulletproof Israel, an organization supplying tactical equipment to soldiers currently at war. To celebrate this charitable success, special guest Gad Elbaz, led us in uplifting song and dance, infusing hope into our hearts. Co-founder, Mikael Benichou, reflects: “I really think that’s exactly when the entire crowd really came to one holding each other like arm by arm and just the entire room just singing together, honestly just gave me chills.”
As the music faded, the room seamlessly blended into a completely different state of being; a reflective moment of silence for those who have fallen. Whatever kind of Jew you were, whether religious, secular, non-affiliated with religion, the room fell into a profound stillness. This contrast was striking but not conflicting. It was a testament to the complexity of our emotions existing within the space between joy and solemnity. The warmth, instead of song, came from the kindling flames of honor and reverence to our friends and families in Israel. This moment transformed and amplified the poignancy of the speeches that followed.
Particularly, the words from Adela Cojab, an Israeli activist and NYU law student, challenged the discriminatory environment on college campuses. Cojab suggested utilizing proactive measures to not only combat hateful rhetoric, but inspire Jewish pride and unity. She further explained that we should not have to feel that we must hide our Jewish identity in a nation that awards and praises individual freedom of expression and religion. Why must we fear openly being a Jew or Zionist? This feeling to conceal our true selves is not only antithetical to democracy, but subverts our right to exist and affirm our place in the world. Similarly, Debra Schwartzben, a Fox News contributor and Israeli activist, echoed this notion of the “un-American” values effectuated in our society’s willingness to participate or uphold antisemitic views and sentiments. These speakers underscored the notion that ignorance and indifference are a different form of poison society consumes, which means we must stand united as a people to educate others and inoculate our communities with knowledge, empathy, and compassion.
This event targeted and succeeded in addressing the multitude of ways in which young American Jews can rally support for Israel through activism against this ideological war of misinformation disseminating to harm Israel’s image. Mayor Adams truly encapsulated this notion, as he spoke fervently upon the intertwined history between the Jewish and African American communities in the United States. He states that within the Civil Rights Movement, Jews stood alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and bolstered his dedication to attain individual rights and freedoms for the African American people. For all people. Mayor Adams explained that we must stand together in the face of hate, indifference, and ignorance. We must triumph over violence. As echoed by co-founder, Jillian Weisleder Chera, “violence is not the way that we solve things on this side of the water. It’s a really hard situation to try and combat people who are very overtly anti-Zionist and antisemitic. I don’t think the correct way to go about that is… to show them a lesson or anything, because we’re under a huge microscope as Jews. I think we do everything we can from a fundraising perspective and from also showing the world that we’re as good people as possible, you know, doing good deeds, being kind to others.”
The crowd’s impassioned sense of shared identity of Jewish pride and unity emanated, pulsing through hearts bound as one. Mordechai Weiss emphasized that, “we are not individuals, selfish individuals looking for our own pursuits. We are a community. We are a collective. When one arm hurts on one person, all of our arms hurt. We have these same hearts. Being Jewish means responsibility, discipline and community, and ensuring that every Jew is able to live in safety and prosperity… it’s a symbol for all other [young] Jews around the whole world that they can create their ‘1,000 Strong’ overnight with no budget, with no big owners, with no backing.” We all have the power to make a difference, even in the diaspora where we feel utterly helpless. “We,” continued Mordechai Weiss, “have such privileges and we have amazing assets here, and those need to be used to mobilize young support for Israel in America because it does make a big difference. The politicians are watching, the community leaders are watching. When Mayor Adams comes in the room with the biggest influencers in New York City, to roaring applause, he keeps that in mind when it comes time to writing policy.”
Honoring its namesake, this event vividly embodied the Jewish experience, embracing both its history and a resilient future, symbolizing the enduring unity of the Jewish community in preserving their identity. Even more so however, each speaker’s message, filled with faith and solidarity, empowered me to leverage my abilities to enact change in this world. This event has unveiled the opportunities of university students and young professionals alike, to utilize their networking skills to advocate for Israel and Judaism. As both Moredechai Weiss and Mickael Benichou emphasized, their years at Yeshiva University cultivated not only a deep connection with the land and people of Israel, but provided them with the tools to become its greatest ally.
As the event drew to a close, I was left speechless. I feel truly empowered, not only as an American Jew and Zionist, but as a newfound activist for my people, my values, and my faith. I will forever be proud of my identity and my people’s unwavering commitment to effectuating a positive difference in the world.
I wish to thank specifically, the wonderful founders of 1,000 Strong, Mordechai Weiss, Jillian Weisleder Chera, and Mickael Benichou.