It was exactly this time of year — early November. I was a freshman at Tufts. There was a girl I had a date planned with. But on the appointed day, she told me she was traveling two subway stops away to Harvard to hear a lecture of some sort. So, I went with her. It turned out not to be so much of a lecture. We sat in a classroom with 30 or 40 people and heard from a short guy with a thick Russian accent. He wanted us to organize buses for a rally in Washington, D.C. a few weeks later. Eight hours each way on a bus to stand on the National Mall for a couple of hours? A week before finals? No way.
Gradually, I came to understand that this was not just any short Russian dude. This was the guy whose release President Reagan had negotiated the prior year after he had served nine years in a Soviet prison. His crime? Advocating for the right of emigration for Soviet Jews and other dissidents. By the time he had finished speaking, I was the Tufts bus captain and filled four buses to Washington for the rally on Dec. 6, 1987.
I don’t remember the girl who brought me there, but the guy who spoke, Natan Sharansky, later became a friend; I even gave him his first ride in an electric car in 2012. It is not hyperbole to say that the Freedom March for Soviet Jews changed my life. It had echoes of the Civil Rights March of 1963 and of Martin Luther King’s unforgettable call for moral clarity. For me on that Sunday, standing on the National Mall with 250,000 others — perhaps the single largest gathering of American Jews — was meaningful, inspiring and perspective-altering. From that moment forward, I had a cause — something larger than myself.
Barely four years later, not only was that cause victorious as nearly a million Jews moved to Israel and contributed mightily to the economic miracle that followed, but the Soviet Union had disintegrated. George Shultz, the late American secretary of state, noted those advocating for Soviet Jews helped expose the internal contradictions that brought the Soviet empire down. But the successful end of the movement was not the end of the spark lit within me in 1987.
In 2013, I moved to Israel with my family. And as we sit here between runs to the bomb shelter reading about American Jews’ plans for a massive rally in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, I am reminded of that autumn evening in Cambridge. And I have one word for all of you. Go.
Go whether you are Jewish or not. Go, because it is time for the majority — the decent and sensible people of this world — to make their voices heard emphatically and unmistakably. We have all been shocked to see rallies in London, Australia and even New York in support of the barbarians who murdered, tortured, raped and kidnapped our neighbors. We’ve seen university students tear down posters of kidnapped babies. These demonic acts cannot go unanswered. Go, because the hostages need your voices to be heard. Go, because university administrators need to know that antisemitism in America will not be normalized. Go, because American policymakers must be reminded that doing the right thing is also in their political interest. Go, mostly because this is a generational event that you will treasure. Decades from now you will remember the experience and be proud you were there. And it just might change your life. It may seem far-fetched. Why should I make the schlep? What difference will one more person make? Know that it will make a difference — but the biggest difference might be in you.