A sea of blue and white blurred across Fifth Avenue as tens of thousands of people attended the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City Sunday, June 2.
Students, schools and organizations from all over the tri-state area were some of the 35,000 people that marched in the parade to celebrate Israel’s 65th anniversary, as well as 30 floats and 17 marching bands.
Participants wore matching shirts and chanted Israeli tunes while holding flags and artwork which demonstrated this year’s parade theme, “Picture Israel: The Art & Craft.”
Since 1964, hundreds of thousands have attended the parade, formerly known as the Salute to Israel Parade, in all sorts of weather conditions, and despite Sunday’s scorching forecast of 90 degrees, tens of thousands of spectators lined the streets between 57th and 74th streets to cheer marchers on.
“I’ve come [to the parade] every year for the past 40 years,” said Elaine Zishotlz, a 79-year-old Cedarhurst resident who was watching her grandchildren march from the sidelines. “This is my favorite day of the year because everyone who comes out to the parade all know how important it is to show their support.”
Among the parade’s marchers were Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Mayoral hopefuls Anthony Weiner and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn also marched in the parade, with Weiner holding an Israeli flag and shouting, “Am Yisrael Chai!” into a megaphone. This year was the first time the disgraced Jewish congressman marched in the parade since 2010, and Weiner’s presence was met with both cheers and jeers.
The parade’s security was noticeably tight, with numerous police officers stationed at every corner and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly eyeing the lineup. Bomb-sniffing dogs and hovering helicopters patrolled the area, and one officer who requested anonymity told The Jewish Week the security efforts were heavier than recent years in response to the Boston Marathon bombings.
Also stationed around the parade’s perimeter were 40 Chabad emissaries, approaching Jewish men and inviting them to put on tefillin.
“This is a great opportunity for us to try to bring Jews together to do a mitzvah,” Levi Druin, a 19-year-old Chabad emissary from South Africa, said shortly before he walked off to put tefillin on an Israeli teen. “People are coming out here to support Israel, and we are trying to get them to do a mitzvah in the name of Israel.”
Many who attended the parade voiced their desire to support Israel, especially during a time when the country faces many challenges.
“With all the controversy Israel faces out there, its important to come and show support and love, and put politics aside for once,” said Joanna Ross-Tash, a 22-year-old Yeshiva University senior from Indianapolis. “This is a good way to focus on the positive and celebrate all that we love about Israel.”
“This is an event where every part of Jews can come together to support our country, if you look around, whether they are religious secular, right or left,” added Lenny Fuld, a 61-year-old Teaneck, N.J., resident who called himself “a big Israel supporter.”
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David Subin, a 58-year-old resident of Englewood, N.J., voiced his support for Israel, but said he was attending the parade to raise awareness for the plight of convicted American spy Jonathan Pollard. Subin set up a massive Pollard sign at the corner of 72nd Street, and was handing out fliers and petitions for people to support Pollard’s release.
“I’ve been exchanging a lot of different views with people today, for and against Israel, but I don’t think people are educated enough about the Pollard issue,” Subin said. “There’s a lot of apathy in American Jews, and Pollard is just one issue we face. Jewish leaders need to do more to act towards his justice, and I’m trying to make more people at this parade care about it.”