Eight hundred Israeli flags. An ocean of white and blue in Sweden’s biggest meeting place. I don’t know what I expected to see when i took the stage last Sunday. But not that. Not in my lifetime.
It had been seven weeks since I first started planning this event. All I knew then was that I wanted to gather a few people in support of Israel. I wanted to make a statement saying that I was sick and tired of the way Israel was being portrayed in the Swedish media. I wanted to stand tall and proud not only as a Jew, but as a Zionist.
I wanted to organize an event focusing on all the wonderful things about Israel, out of love and pride; to tell the world about this country that we love and support.
After obtaining the permits and deciding on a date and time, I invited my friends through Facebook; they invited their friends, and the group grew from 100 people, to 200, then 300 and 400. I felt the tide turning with every keystroke and every new participant.
I saw with my own eyes that the people of Sweden refused to accept the narrative they were being served by the Swedish media. Their thoughts and views were not being represented, and they were willing to travel all across the country to change that.
The outpouring of support I received was amazing. Emails, phone calls and messages from perfect strangers telling me how much they had longed for this day to come. I received package after package from Israel - flags, menorahs, shirts and letters that brought tears to my eyes.
I may have been organizing this event on my own, but I was never alone; not for one second.
'This is just the beginning'
A sense of unity was what hit me as I stood on that stage on September 2. A thousand people looking back at me; their faces displaying the diversity of Israel. All ages and nationalities; all religions and political orientations. We were all different, but we were all there for the same reason - love and support of Israel. We were there for truth, freedom and democracy. Shoulder to shoulder; heart to heart. These were the faces of change. This was the day of hope and unity.
The event was made possible by the mothers, fathers, grandparents, sons and daughters who took time out of their lives to be there; and the police made us all feel so safe.
As I was packing up the equipment an elderly woman approached and told me she was a Holocaust survivor who took two buses to attend the rally.
"I was fearful at first, but now I am leaving here feeling happy," she told me. "Today I can feel proud. Today I was able to show people who I am."
Her words will stay with me for the rest of my life. That is the heart of what I was hoping to do. That is what we all did together.
I have already started planning the manifestation for next year, because, as I said in my speech at the rally: "This is not the end. It is not the finish line. This is just the beginning."
Annika Hernroth–Rothstein organized a recent pro-Israel rally in Sweden