NEW YORK (May. 18)
Organizers and marchers are getting ready for New York’s Salute to Israel celebration on Sunday, relieved that last year’s clouds won’t rain on this year’s parade.
Last year, a debate over participation by New York’s gay and lesbian synagogue left the participation of dozens of the area’s Orthodox day schools — and thousands of students — up in the air until three days before the march began.
This year, students of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah’s religious school will march under the banner of the Reform movement’s youth group.
With the gay and lesbian congregation, and also listed on the banner, will be several other synagogues that do not have the 75 students marching that new parade regulations require of any marching group.
Parade organizers say the new policy is not an attempt to finesse Beth Simchat Torah’s participation, but is designed for a more impressive and shorter parade.
But the true diversity of New York’s Jewish community will still find full expression on Sunday as Central Park, bordering the parade route, will host two other events appealing to the two opposing sides of last year’s conflict.
Some marchers — including contingents from Reform temple youth groups — will start the day with the city’s annual fund-raising AIDS Walk.
And some will follow the march by attending a Central Park concert featuring leading Orthodox bands and political sentiments of the Israeli opposition.
There remains the question of whether the Orthodox community, which supplies the bulk of the schoolchildren for the parade and has been generally highly critical of the Israeli government’s autonomy accord with the Palestinians, will wait for the end of the parade to make known its political leanings.
One group, Kahane Chai, hopes it won’t.
CREATING A ‘MUCH STRONGER KAHANE PRESENCE’
“We intend on creating a much stronger Kahane presence than there has been in the past,” said Michael Guzofsky, leader of the extremist group. “We hope to involve thousands of spectators in our message.”
Kahane Chai, which has marched in the parade in past years, is barred this year along with all other adult groups, a policy Guzofsky takes personally.
“Obviously, the intent is to keep Kahane Chai from marching,” said Guzofsky, whose organization was banned in Israel following the massacre committed by Kahane follower Baruch Goldstein in February.
Guzofsky himself is the subject of an administrative detention order drawn up by the Israeli government.
Don Adelman, executive director of the American Zionist Youth Foundation, denies that the new regulations were aimed at Kahane Chai, as well as the more plausible speculation that they were drawn up to finesse the question of Beth Simchat Torah’s participation.
“Under no circumstance was this the case,” he said. “These are issues that have been under discussion for two or more years.
“It is not the case that these are rules and regulations created of one particular problem last year. Absolutely not,” Adelman said.
Two years ago, Beth Simchat Torah’s initial application to march in the parade was turned down because it lacked sufficient students in its school, under earlier rules requiring 35 students. Last year, the synagogue pressed its case, and a compromise was worked out in which it would march under a joint banner with the Association of Reform Zionists of America.
Orthodox groups then balked at that, and at least 24 of 40 participating Orthodox schools pulled out of the march.
A newspaper interview with the synagogue’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, prompted the remaining Orthodox schools to withdraw, leading the AZYF to expel the synagogue from the parade.
This year, the issue has taken a low profile in the Orthodox community, where activists are much more concerned over questions of politics.
“We thought the atmosphere in the parade might not sufficiently express what we want expressed about events going on in Israel now,” said Joyce Lempel, one of the organizers of the Central Park concert.
Performers will include Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, D’veykus and Yossi Piamenta, the Chasidic jazz guitarist who recently proved a crossover success at New York’s hip Knitting Factory stage.
‘DANGERS CREATED BY THE NEW ARRANGEMENTS’
Among the subjects for the talks between the musical numbers will be what Lempel described as “the dangers created by the new arrangements” with the Palestinians and “some of the wonderful things that have come out of our return to certain areas of biblical Israel.”
Among the sponsors of the concert are the National Council of Young Israel and Joseph Frager, president of the Jerusalem Reclamation Project, which finances Jewish settlement in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
The concert is being held at 3:30, as the march is wrapping up, to draw from the parade’s crowd but not detract from it.
The executive organizer of the parade, Sam Domb, has supported the Jerusalem Reclamation Project in the past, as have at least two of the local dignitaries expected in the parade, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R.N.Y.).
According to one source, the coincidence of the parade with the AIDS Walk is hurting the parade’s efforts to find marshals for the early morning organizing.
“They said, ‘No, no, it’s a different community,’ ” said the source, “and then I got a frantic call about a week ago (saying) we’re not sufficiently recruited.”
AZYF officials deny difficulty in getting volunteers.
And Robert Mittleman, a regional adviser for the Reform movement’s National Federation of Temple Youth, said the dual march is good news for his kids.
“We have a number of kids doing both,” he said. “It’s very exciting for them, and very convenient.”