By Michele Justic
How do we love Israel? Let us count the WAZE. From the biblical age to the digital age, from the Kotel to Google headquarters, Israel enriches the spirit and broadens the mind. We see news of Israeli medical corps going out to help after all types of disasters across the globe, and of researchers developing cures for diseases and new technologies (such as WAZE, a popular navigation tool which many drivers have come to depend on). Yet, when Americans’ connection to Israel is limited to textbook learning and financial support, the passion can be lost. But once a year, Israel takes over the streets of New York–officially a section of Fifth Avenue but also spreading to Central Park, side streets, public transportation, and more.
It all began 50 years ago when 1,000 people marched on Riverside Drive in support of Israel. More individuals and corporations became involved, and New York City gave the parade full support with an official permit to march on Fifth Avenue, the protection of extra police officers, and many elected officials marching on the route. Each year, the parade always seems fresh, thanks to the leadership of the organizers, the imagination of the marchers, and the talent of the entertainers. This year, to celebrate the Golden Anniversary, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the organizers of the parade, introduced the theme of “50 Reasons to Celebrate Israel.”
“Year after year, the parade never ceases to be a thrilling experience, bringing the tenacious spirit of Israel to the streets of New York. I feel privileged to be a part of the 50th anniversary festivities as it will be one of the greatest parades yet,” said JCRC-NY Executive Vice President and CEO Michael Miller. With 30 floats with musical performers, 15 marching bands, and 35,000 marchers entertaining hundreds of thousands of spectators, making this the largest celebration of Israel in the world, the annual Celebrate Israel Parade is not to be missed. According to the JCRC-NY, more than 200 organizations are scheduled to march, including groups of rollerbladers, motorcyclists, dance groups, and juggling clowns.
The parade is part of a larger Celebrate Israel Initiative, which includes other events and is largely sponsored by UJA-Federation of New York, Jewish Communal Fund, and Consulate General of Israel in New York. Even the Empire State Building shows its support with blue and white colors on May 31.
This year’s parade Grand Marshal is Robert Benrimon, founder of Skyframe Inc. In TBT (Throwback Thursday) fashion, JCRC-NY is reaching out to parade enthusiasts to send in their old pictures and memories–check out their YouTube channel for videos of Mayim Bialik, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and more. But this year’s parade is on the very cusp of technological breakthroughs, featuring SpaceIL, an Israeli nonprofit that is building an unmanned spacecraft to land on the moon. The US IL Flying Club, a group of pilots and aviation fans from the US and Israel, is expected to do a flyover to salute the parade as well.
The parade represents more than a bridge between New York and Israel; groups come from all of North America, this year including UJA of Greater Toronto, the Palm Beach Synagogue, etc. Closer to home, HALB, Rambam and Shalhevet, HAFTR, HANC, and YCQ have a longstanding tradition to march and this year are being joined by the One Israel Fund, based in Cedarhurst, and the Hebron Fund, based in Brooklyn.
A new tradition has been established as well: the annual four-mile Celebrate Israel Run, beginning at 8:00 a.m. in Central Park. More than 6,000 runners will race through a course designed to represent a run through Israel, and there will also be a festival featuring Israeli music, snacks, and more. There is also a kids’ run for children 2—12, beginning at 9:30 a.m. To register, please visit NYRR.org.
We can all agree the best way to see the parade is live, but the next best thing is televised, and thankfully, FOX affiliate, WWOR-TV My9, provides coverage from 12:00 to 2:00 p.m. and it is also streamed online at celebrateisraelny.org.
While there is much to celebrate, a shadow has been cast on the parade this year. While readers of this paper are well aware of the erroneous and prejudiced nature of the BDS–boycott, divestment, sanctions movement, which feels Israel should be held accountable for what they consider an apartheid state–the movement continues to gather steam and some groups representing the movement want to march in the parade. The JCRC-NY rejects the notion that they are in any way endorsing the movement, stating, “The BDS movement, an international movement which advocates for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against the State of Israel and its products and institutions, is a clear and present danger to the future of Israel. The single most dangerous element of its campaign is their stated call for a full right of return of Palestinian refugees into modern day Israel, which would spell the end of the Jewish state. JCRC-NY has vigorously and persistently opposed and fought against the BDS movement and boycotts against Israel in any form, including boycotts against products from Judea and Samaria. As the organizers of the Celebrate Israel Parade, JCRC-NY carries the profound responsibility to bring together the widest possible spectrum of supporters of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Therefore, those groups who oppose the BDS movement and sign our required registration form, which states, among other things, that they “identify with Israel as a Jewish and democratic state”–although we strongly disagree with their support of a targeted boycott of products from Judea and Samaria–fit within the guidelines of the parade. Further, many of these same groups participate in a variety of prominent, national Jewish organizations and all parade participants must adhere to the guidelines by displaying exclusively celebratory messaging on the avenue.”
In a sense, this is another way in which the parade is a microcosm of Israel itself, allowing for free speech, even unpopular speech. There have been other incidents in the past of unpopular groups marching, and as always, marchers are free to cheer, boo, or remain silent to whichever groups they choose. Allowing these groups to lessen the crowds and basically rain on the parade would be to the detriment of all and would benefit none.
If you’re looking to bring the family out for a fun day in support of Israel, come out on June 1, 11:00 a.m.—4:00 p.m., anywhere from 57th to 74th Street, and be ready to cheer on Israel with all your heart. v