Of all the things that I imagined ever doing, overseeing a major New York City parade was never one of them. But this Sunday I will be doing just that. Marching along with more than 40,000 participants and many more watching on the sidelines, on TV or online to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Israel.
In many ways, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York Celebrate Israel Parade is not just about Israel, and it’s not just a parade.
It’s an opportunity for an often fractured Jewish community to come together during times of turmoil. It’s a chance for people from different parts of the Jewish community and outside the community to walk together in the same place at the same time.
The first time I walked up Fifth Avenue during the parade, I felt a sense of awe – here was a community proud of its Jewishness and proud to publicly show its support of Israel on one of the most iconic streets in the world.
Perhaps the best description of why the parade is important comes from President Isaac Herzog in his video message: “Let us take this opportunity to walk together in solidarity and to remind ourselves of the power of our unity and togetherness of the spirit of peace and fraternity, to build and to renew and to heal.”
Rabbis from across the ideological and religious spectrum came together to say ‘Since the days of the Torah, our community has seen complicated dynamics, disagreements and different viewpoints. But as in the past, it’s our connection to Judaism that ties us to each other, despite our differences. Each generation receives the sense of pride that comes with being descendants of their lineage. That sense of pride is what brings many to New York City to march up Fifth Avenue as part of the Celebrate Israel Parade.
And two members of Knesset with radically different opinions on the issues dividing Israelis described, in a joint statement, why they will be joining us as we march up Fifth Avenue: “The unity of the Jewish people is our duty for future generations. We are all partners in the glorious Jewish enterprise and the victory of Israel in its resurrection, both in the State of Israel and outside of it. We have faced many challenges throughout our history, but we have always emerged stronger. Israel’s connection with the Jewish community in New York is an asset that we all need to protect, nurture, and strengthen.
And why is it not just a parade? Because many people don’t come just to watch – they come to walk, to join, to participate.
On Sunday there will be elected officials from New York coming to show their support for Israel. There will be schools and synagogues, a float with Holocaust survivors, Jewish bikers, Jewish scouts, Matisyahu, Noa Tishby, The Maccabeats, Lizzy Savetsky, Busy in Brooklyn, and many more.
There will be parishioners coming in buses with their pastors from churches in Brooklyn right after Sunday services to be there with us.
There will be families who will not only march but then come to the first-ever Celebrate Israel block party at 63rd and Madison with food and children’s activities.
And there will be Jews – New Yorkers and Israelis – with radically different views and opinions proudly showing why, amidst conflict and division, they believe in Israel and in the continuous effort, as the parade theme declares “to renew the hope”.
It will be a cacophonous gathering, with different voices, different music, different colors. It will be part of the mosaic that makes up our diverse Jewish people and its many beautiful and sometimes complicated relationships with Israel.
I hope to see you there.