Celebrate Israel!

Celebrate Israel!

Young marchers from the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey lead the way in the Celebrate Israel parade.

It was hot – Israel kind of hot.

As I stood along New York’s Fifth Avenue for the annual Celebrate Israel parade I began having flashbacks to standing in Tel Aviv for a parade a few years ago. Fortunately, this time I had a bigger hat and a bottle of water.

Nor did the heat deter the hundreds of thousands who came to the Upper East Side on Sunday to watch the parade, organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

Jugglers, unicyclists, marching bands, and camels, led by marchers from the Zone, a Jewish summer camp in upstate New York, entertained spectators while some 35,000 people marched up Fifth Avenue to celebrate the Jewish state. According to organizers, more than 200 organizations marched in the parade. The bigger names, like JAFI and El Al, rode on colorful floats, while Jewish schools, synagogues, and federations from around the tristate area marched with banners and flags marking their support of the Jewish state and this year’s theme: “Picture Israel: The Art & Craft.”

North Jersey could be seen throughout. Having arrived after 1, I missed seeing some of the local crowd but I cheered as Ben Porat Yosef, Moriah, Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County, Ma’ayanot, and Torah Academy of Bergen County marched by. And later, toward the end of the parade, came Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey with a number of area synagogues.

There was no shortage of Lubavitchers around the parade, asking men in the crowd if they had put on t’fillin yet that day. I didn’t see the anti-Israel Neterai Karta protesters, but I heard that they were on the sidelines as well. And when I heard “Moshiach” by Mordechai ben David coming down the street, I thought that the Lubavitchers had decided to join in the parade. To my surprise, it wasn’t Chabad or even a yeshivah – it was Eagles’ Wings, a pro-Israel Christian group. As they got closer, I heard their chant: Who are we? Christians who love Isra-el!

This was the second year that Eagles’ Wings marched in the parade, according to Michael Mittelman, director of Celebrate Israel. And they weren’t the only non-Jewish groups marching. Besides the marching bands and majorettes that are staples of New York parades, the Cyprus Federation of America – an association of Greek Cypriots – joined the festivities this year.

“Obviously we want to have the Jewish community come out in force – and we do – but it shows Israel should be loved by everyone,” Mittelman said. “Having our friends celebrate with us is wonderful, and we hope to increase that diversity in the future.”

New York’s mayoral candidates also made a showing. I’m told former Rep. Anthony Weiner marched by, while John Catsimatidis rode on a red, white, and blue float declaring his love for Israel and the friendship between Israelis and Greeks, as Breslov chasidim danced around him in their trademark white yarmulkes and long peyot.

This year marked Israel’s 65th birthday, but next year will mark a major milestone for the parade – its 50th anniversary. Organizers hope to top this year’s celebration.

“It’s definitely a challenge to put something so large together for five hours,” Mittelman said. “We still have room to grow. We’re always looking to see what we could add.”

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