There are so many reasons why it’s a joy to walk in the Celebrate Israel parade, which this year kicks off on Sunday, June 5, at noon.
For one thing, you’re marching north up the middle of Fifth Avenue, a grand boulevard usually filled with cars and brake-squealing trucks and insane bicycle riders headed furiously south. As a pedestrian, usually you’re relegated to the sidewalk. As you walk in the parade, the avenue’s generously proportioned, massively well-made, entirely unaffordable prewar apartment buildings to your right and Central Park’s green glory hidden partially behind stone walls but with its trees arching splendidly out over them, you get to revel in the sheer Manhattan-ness of it all. It’s a purely aesthetic pleasure, there for the basking. Take it if you can.
Usually the parade’s on a gorgeous day, too. There’s no way to ensure that, of course, and even writing about it feels, in a ridiculously childish way, like a sort of jinx, but usually the sun’s goldenly visible and all the clouds are puffy white.
And then, of course, you look at the supporters lining the streets. Israel’s embattled by now. Not only is it no longer chic to support it, as it was decades ago, but now in some circles — widening circles — it’s no longer even acceptable. Another of the joys of the parade is that once you make it past the strategically parked dump trucks that provide a barrier for marchers, and pass through the layers of security, the vigilant New York City cops and the burly serious-looking guys who you wouldn’t want to mess with, you’re among friends.
That doesn’t mean that everyone agrees about everything at the parade. In fact, that’s far from the case, and it’s another one of its glories. The Celebrate Israel parade is one of the few gatherings that unites the range of Israel’s supporters, from the right to the left, from centrist Orthodox through left-wing Reform, from schools, JCCs, federations, other organizations, or no organization at all, and makes those distinctions not matter. If you care enough to show up for the parade, as a marcher or an observer, then you’re supporting Israel, and you’re welcome.
People come from all over. Most are from the tri-state area — New Jersey, Long Island, Brooklyn’s farthest reaches — but some come from New England and others from the Midwest. There often are black-clad Jews on big motorcycles, and performers singing and dancing on floats. There’s the smell of food that wafts out over the avenue. There are wildly colored T-shirts and kippot that identify various groups.
There’s almost everybody.
This year, as every year, some local schools will send delegations to march, and the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, working with shuls, schools, and the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, is running buses to ferry marchers as well. Even if you can’t march, you can stand on the sidewalk and cheer the walkers on.
It’s a great experience, celebrating Israel’s existence, New York’s beauty, and life in general. Join us there!