Sunday was a gorgeous summer day: sunny, hot, not a cloud in the sky. It was a perfect day for a parade.

Thousands of Jews from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut gathered in New York City to celebrate Israel.

We were young, we were old. We were religiously observant. We were secular. We were Jews of every age, shape, size, political and religious persuasion.

But we all shared one thing in common: Ahavat Yisrael – Love of Israel.

Teen draped with Israeli Flag - Israel Day Parade, New York City, 2015

Teen draped with Israeli Flag – Israel Day Parade, New York City, 2015

Each group gathered on the side streets along the Upper East Side, to feed into 5th Avenue for the start of the parade, shortly around noon. Each group wore their own colorful t-shirt, marching under their own banner. It was so joyous to see so many of us from all over the Tri-State area.

And who better to begin the Parade than the “YOWies?” – “Yids on Wheels” – a group of Jews who ride motorcycles, raise awareness and “community goodwill” as part of their mandate. Israel and their Jewish identity, along with a love of biking, brings these folk together. Having the “Yowies” begin the Parade was a demonstration that this parade was going to be FUN, it was meant to make us smile and bring joy.

There was no political agenda to the parade: no speeches, no rally “talks”, no fundraising. This was true “klal Yisrael – the community of Israel, the Jewish people, joining together as one united people. It was a beautiful site to see. It was a spectacular event in which to participate.

The only “small political element” that didn’t dampen our spirits in the least, was a tiny group of Jewish protesters, who were limited to standing in a small cordoned-off area. But their voices were barely heard, their protests seemed…anachronistic, archaic, irrelevant. And they didn’t even cause a stir.

5th Avenue was closed to cars as we marched. All along the way, the NYC police were lined up on the side, not simply providing security, but smiling and cheering us on. It was a display of “NYPD Blue” at their finest! Behind the police stood our supporters, friends and everyone who loves watching a parade!

Scenes from NYC Israel Day Parade 2015

Scenes from NYC Israel Day Parade 2015

There was music and bands. Radio and TV stations broadcast the Parade so others could share our joy and celebrate Israel with us.

We want others to know that Israel is more than violence and struggle with her neighbors. Israel is more than the headlines we read about in the news.

Israel is a modern, hi-tech, country. The people who live there affirm life each and every day. Like those of us who marched in the parade, the people of Israel are young and old, they are Jews, Muslims and Christians. They are Arab, Druze and Bedouin. They are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular. They are of every religious and political persuasion. And they have much to celebrate.

At the same time, Israel needs our support. We need to visit. Each of us – no matter if we are Jewish, Christian or Muslim, has roots in this special place. We need to discover our heritage. We need to discover with our own eyes the Israel of today and only then, can we truly make educated opinions and work to make peace a living, breathing reality for all who live there.

As Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Zionism once said:

“Im tirtzu, ayn zo agada, l’h’yot am chofshi, b’artzaynu, b’Eretz Zion, b’Y’ru’shalayim. – If you will it, it is no dream, to live as a free people, in the land of Zion, the land of Jerusalem.”