Marching Against Bias

Last week, as MJE has done for 20 years, we marched in the Annual Celebrate Israel Parade. The parade was watched by over 40,000 people and included officials such as New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon. We found love and support all around us – in our MJE community, local NYC leaders and politicians and friends and family.

Showing Jewish Pride

Besides the simple fun of strutting down Fifth Avenue to Jewish music while waving Israeli flags, why is marching in the parade important?

First, there are simply not enough times when the Jewish community displays unadulterated pride in Israel or in simply being Jewish. We tend to take more pride in how honest and critical we are of ourselves (and of the Jewish State) than we do in all the good Israel and the Jewish people do for Jews and the world at large.

Being self-critical is an important Jewish teaching, necessary for spiritual and moral growth. However, this can only happen when the critique is fair and balanced with some “feel-good” opportunities. Otherwise we become overly negative and cynical about ourselves. The Israel Day Parade is one of those few opportunities and experiences left in America to feel good and positive about ourselves and Israel.

Offsetting Unfair Media Bias

The parade is also critical to offset the unfair bias to which Israel is continually subjected to in the media. Reporting on the recent conflict along the Gaza border, articles on the subject were mostly entitled: “Israel’s deadly tactics in confronting the protests” (Reuters).

Unfortunately, I didn’t see any articles which read: “Israel defends herself against deadly protests.”

This spin is nothing new. It’s as old as the Bible itself. In last week’s Torah reading, before the children of Israel enter Israel, spies are dispatched to scout out the land. The spies return with a negative report, introducing doubt to the masses who now want to give up on going forward into Israel and instead return to Egypt. But what was so wrong about the report with which the spies returned? It seems from a simple reading of the Biblical text that they just reported on what they saw. Were the spies supposed to falsify their report? Nachmanides, the great medieval Talmudist and Mystic, explained that the spies reported the facts but they articulated themselves in such a way as to cast doubt and instill fear within the rank and file to support their own personal opinion and agenda. They made up their minds that going forth into Israel was not a good idea and described what they saw in that light, as opposed to simply reporting on what they saw and allowing the people to decide for themselves.

Stories the Media Doesn’t Cover

Just three years ago, I received the following email from a student of mine who is now a pediatric surgeon in Israel.

“Thursday I am doing a big operation on a three-year old girl from Gaza with a giant abdominal tumor. She came in April, malnourished, her abdomen was completely full of tumors and she was half dead-the product of a lot of neglect. We diagnosed her problem, inserted a catheter for chemotherapy and treated her with chemotherapy. The tumor is much smaller, she looks much better, is much stronger and now she is ready for surgery. Her father speaks no Hebrew or English but you can tell how happy he is. Where is the media for this story? We do this kind of stuff all the time, every week almost and there is no coverage at all…Where are you guys? At a time where Israel is being villainized daily for the “horrors” they are perpetrating in Gaza we do this stuff all the time. This story needs to get out there.”

I suspect the media never covered any of the surgeries my student performed on Palestinian children for the same reason the spies in the Torah reported things in the way they did: it simply does not fit in with their narrative or personal opinion.

If You Don’t March, Who Will?

Why take the time to make it through the crowds and onto the busy 5th Ave?

Marching exercises our freedom of speech and if we don’t speak out in favor of Israel… who will? We are fortunate to live in a city that’s so accepting and supportive of Israel. However, this isn’t true universally, or even throughout the US. If we have a chance to march and express our support, we should! Past generations of Jewish people never thought they would live to see the creation of a Jewish State.

Seventy years later, we march in their stead to exercise our freedom and the pride we have in being Jewish, showing the world just how extraordinary Israel truly is.

About the Author
Rabbi Mark Wildes, known as The Urban Millennials' Rabbi, founded Manhattan Jewish Experience (MJE) in 1998. Since then, he has become one of America’s most inspirational and dynamic Jewish educators. Rabbi Wildes holds a BA in Psychology from Yeshiva University, a JD from the Cardozo School of Law, a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University and was ordained from Yeshiva University. Rabbi Mark & his wife Jill and their children Yosef, Ezra, Judah and Avigayil live on the Upper West Side where they maintain a warm and welcoming home for all.
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