The other day I received an email asking me to show my support of Israel by attending a solidarity rally at the Federal Building in Los Angeles. At the bottom of the email was an italicized sentence, informing me there would be limited parking and no bathrooms.
I am a person who happens to derive a great amount of pleasure from a nice bathroom. I am a person who pulls up to a restaurant .5 miles away from my home and heads straight for the toilet. I drink copious amounts of water and urinate accordingly. Add to this the fact that I have a summer cold, my first in years, and feel like hell. It is 95 degrees outside. My husband and I previously RSVP’d to an event at the same time as the pro-Israel rally; an event for the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center at which we’d be expected. Furthermore, I really, really have an aversion to crowds.
But, it’s Israel.
I found my little pin with the Israeli and US flags and put it on. My husband, an Israeli citizen, slung his camera diagonally around his chest while I filled an old AIPAC bag with Sudafed, water, tissue, and cough drops. We got on the freeway and had no idea what to expect.
As soon as we got off at the Wilshire Boulevard exit, we knew this would be big. Traffic was at a standstill and already we could hear cars honking with passengers holding up the Israeli flag. All along Wilshire, people from Stand With Us and IAC (Israeli American Council) were handing out Israeli flags to people waiting in their cars. There was, of course, no parking. But it was Israel! So we parked illegally.
The first person I saw on the ground was my plumber. “Oren! Oren! Hi!” I yelled. “Julianne! Julianne!” He yelled back. “Am Israel Chai!” Hundreds of people carrying Israeli flags and placards with the three murdered Israeli teens flooded the three corners of Wilshire and Veteran Avenue, leaving the pro-Palestinian protesters to just one. Group organizers refused to allow any pro-Israel supporters to cross the street to their side. For every pro-Palestinian supporter there must have been a hundred pro-Israel souls, and the gap continued to widen as the afternoon went on.
“Am Israel Chai” blared from open car windows. Stunningly beautiful Israeli women donned clingy white and blue dresses. As I crossed the street with the thick tide of flag-waving and sweaty supporters, I heard my name being called. “Julianne! Oh my God you’re HERE!” It was Jenna, lovely Jenna, whose family I traveled with to Israel years ago on a synagogue tour. I’d attended her Bat Mitzvah in Jerusalem at the Kotel and fell in love with her Zadie Barry, an 81 year old Holocaust survivor from Warsaw who I promised I’d have married if I’d been just 6 months older. A picture of Barry and I dancing on a deck overlooking the Mediterranean Sea is still on my refrigerator; we both look radiant and filled with joy. Jenna, now 19, has decided she doesn’t want to be an actress anymore. She wants to be the U.S. Ambassador to Israel. We took a selfie and promised to get our families together for Shabbat dinner before she leaves for college in NY.
My husband endlessly snapped pictures and yelled “Am Israel Chai!” as we, for a brief moment in time, became one with this larger community to show our solidarity for Israel. With the heat, and the crowds, and all the Israelis, it felt for a moment as though we were actually there, in Jerusalem, our heads swimming with the passion and urgency of being alive, of protecting our homeland against an existential threat, of unifying as one solid frontline of pride and commitment to the Jewish state.
And I even made it all the way home without peeing in my pants.