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Teens Lead the Way As Thousands Throng Manhattan’s Israel Parade

May 6, 2002
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Tens of thousands of people turned out for New York’s annual Israel Day Parade, but it was children who carried most of the banners of Jewish institutions, federations and schools as demonstrators marched up Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict garners endless analysis in newspapers and on televison, but the way these children, many of them teens, see it, the matter is simple: Israel wants to make peace, the Palestinians want to fight.

And the schoolchildren are resolute about defending Israel.

“So many people tried to get rid of us, but we’re not going anywhere,” said Adam Gold, 13, who was there on Sunday with a group from the Jewish Federation of Ocean County, N.J.

In general, the parade was as seamless as the clear sky on a beautiful spring afternoon.

A few hundred people — including some Jews — met for a counter-rally against Israel, but the children at the Israel Day parade shrugged it off.

Josh Mandell doesn’t agree with the counter-demonstrators but, he said, they have a right to their opinion. His response was to rouse the marchers in a forceful rendition of “Am Yisroel Chai!”

It was at least the third rally this year for David Wodka, 16, from upstate New York, who also attended last month’s huge solidarity rally in Washington and one in Central Park last summer.

Israel is a “great country” and it needs to survive, he said. But he was skeptical that there ever would be peace with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

After all, Wodka said, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Arafat “90 percent of what he wanted” at the Camp David summit, and Arafat refused.

Israel won’t go back to “all of the 1967 borders,” Wodka said.

Talya Kahana, 18, is in the parade neighborhood every day as a student at Ramaz, a modern Orthodox school that sent hundreds of students to the parade.

Still, to “see the city packed with Jews” for a day is exhilarating, she said.

But the parade isn’t just to energize American Jews, said Ramaz student Corey Miller, 15: It’s also to send a message to Israel.

“They need strength,” he said.

Demanding that Israel exercise restraint in the face of recurring terrorist attacks is “like tying someone up with ropes” with their “hands behind their back while someone else is smacking them in the face,” Miller said. “It’s ridiculous.”

The tenor of the Ramaz school has changed considerably since the intifada began 19 months ago, said Gabe Marans, 16, whose current events club is consumed with the issue.

But the situation has only strengthened Marans’ commitment to make aliyah after he completes his education.

“It’s the Jewish homeland, and we haven’t had a Jewish homeland” for two thousand years, he said. “We should take advantage of it. Everyone should move there.”

Students from the progressive Abraham Joshua Heschel school in Manhattan wore T-shirts with the message, “The work of righteousness shall be peace.”

Sarah Belfer, 12, said it pains her that people are being killed on both sides.

“I wish for peace,” she said, but added that she has “no idea how to get to that.”

Dizzy with exuberance, a mob of Jewish college students swung around each other’s arms and banged leather drums. The Israeli Consulate had convened the campus leaders for a weekend of workshops and parties that culminated in the parade.

After fighting for Israel on college campuses, it was almost surreal to be with thousands of other supporters cheering Israel, the college students said.

It felt great to witness “25 blocks of people supporting Israel,” said Randy Barnes, the head of the Israel Action Center at the University of California at Berkeley. The Berkeley campus has seen some of the most severe anti- Israel activity during the intifada.

Reed Albergotti, from San Diego State, also basked in the occasion.

It’s a “celebration,” he said. People are here to “share our love for Israel. That’s what this is about.”

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