It never gets old for me — singing and dancing up Fifth Avenue each year with my children’s school — to celebrate the miracle that is Israel.
It is nothing short of exhilarating, in fact, to belt out a jazzed-up version of “Am Yisrael Chai” and an array of Israeli hits at the Celebrate Israel parade, held this past Sunday on a steamy sunny day in Manhattan.
The parade is really one of the few events in the Jewish community that bring together Jews of all stripes, representing synagogues, Jewish day schools, federations and Israeli organizations such as Tzofim (Israel Scouts), Leket Israel (the national food bank), and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
So it was with much dismay that I read Ha’aretz veteran journalist Chemi Shalev’s take on the parade, “Orthodox Jews dominate joyous Israel Parade in New York,” in the June 3 on-line edition. Shalev writes that if the parade had taken place in Israel, “it would have been taken automatically as a pro-settler march or as a demonstration organized by the religious Zionist Habayit Hayehudi party.”
He also notes that “the clear majority of the marchers belonged to Orthodox schools and yeshivas, sported kippot for males and modest dress for females, and separated boys from girls. A not-insignificant number of delegations also sported orange shirts, the color associated with the settler protests against the Gaza disengagement.”
Really? Our own school, Ben Porat Yosef, a modern Orthodox co-ed yeshiva in Paramus, NJ, sported orange T-shirts this year, and I can assure you it was not a political protest of any kind. The students, all in seventh grade and younger, had no whiff of any controversy — aside from the natural confusion some experienced when seeing visibly religious Jews, members of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta, stage their own protest supporting a Palestinian state in the entire land of Israel. While I can’t speak for other Orthodox schools — and yes, there were many of them — at ours, the students were neither separated by gender nor told to wear excessively modest clothes — although the boys did have to wear long pants.
Shalev also writes that despite the parade’s ban on political demonstrations, “many of the Orthodox schools sported maps of Israel without the 1967 lines, shouted slogans in favor of one Jerusalem and ‘the holy city of Hebron’ and participated in a political post-parade concert in Central Park.”
I didn’t study each school’s shirts, but many appeared to keep with the parade’s theme of “Picture Israel; The Art & the Craft,” highlighting the diversity of the land, people, and accomplishments. Did some have maps of “greater Israel”? Undoubtedly, but one can argue that it is just as political to sport a map with the pre-1967 lines, implying that those are the final borders and denying the reality that Israel does in fact maintain control over a great swath of land over the Green Line. And how many Israelis would argue in favor of a divided Jerusalem or disregard the holiness of the patriarchs’ burial sites in Hebron? As for the post-parade concert, which has been held for years in Central Park, that is an entirely optional event — one that I personally have no interest in.
As I gazed onto the crowds of spectators lined up this year, I did not look at them and classify them according to their denominational affiliations — I just saw thousands of Jews expressing their love and support for Israel. And when I saw a little girl waving at us with excitement, I happily waved back without notice of how she was dressed or how religious her family appeared.
Isn’t that the essence of the parade — that we are all one people united by a common love for our homeland?