On Sunday, June 4th, tens of thousands of people will gather along Fifth Avenue to march in solidarity with Israel, and join together at the Celebrate Israel Parade to support the Jewish state. And it will be a particular special time for us in the Feldstein family, because this year our granddaughter Sarit will be with her school at the parade for the first time, marking the occasion of a third generation to participate in this annual event.
The parade, now in its 58th year, has a rich and important history. In 1964, Haim Zohar, Charles Bick, Ted Comet, Alvin Schiff, and Dan Ronen planned a demonstration of American Jewish solidarity with Israel. They coordinated with the Manhattan Day School to march from their school to a theater on Broadway. Back then it was called the Youth Salute to Israel Parade.
In 1965, David Ben Gurion paid a visit to the United States … and thousands of people stood along Fifth Avenue to watch Ben Gurion, in an impromptu event. This helped create the parade route, which is still followed today.
The parade was cancelled following the 9-11 tragedy, but a year later it was back – and attracted the largest attendance for the parade ever, with more than 100,000 marchers and 750,000 spectators.
In 2011, the parade was renamed the Celebrate Israel Parade. COVID forced the parade to go virtual for two years, but last year it was back on Fifth Avenue.
I still remember attending the parade in grade school, in the early 1970s. Our school rented several buses to take us to the parade, and we practiced our performance for weeks before the event, singing Israeli songs and making a banner to demonstrate our love for Israel.
In high school, the parade also became a social event for Jewish guys and gals to meet. After the parade, we’d reconnect with camp friends and get together with kids from other schools that we ordinarily wouldn’t get a chance to see that often. Remember that this was still a time that long distance calls cost a dollar a minute, and we didn’t have text, email, and other online methods of communication. So these reunions were very special at the time.
Once my wife and I got married, we continued to show our solidarity for Israel by attending the annual parade. At some point in time, I finally figured out that it was more efficient to park our car above 86th Street – and watch the parade from its end point – rather than fight for a parking spot with all the parents dropping their kids off at the parade gathering spots around 54th through 57th Streets. We also would look forward to seeing some of our friends who had moved out of Stamford – but somehow it seemed that all the people we ended up bumping into were local residents who we saw every day! It was always a lot of fun, though – and we often ended our day with a visit to some kosher eatery in Manhattan.
Of course, there was always that small group of a dozen Neturei Karta protestors at the parade each year, with their hateful signs showing their contempt for Israel. Many folks were very bothered by this, and some even felt the need to engage with them verbally. However, I always chose to ignore them – and knew that the number of supporters outnumbered the protestors 5,000 to 1, which was enough to provide me with comfort.
Soon our kids became old enough to march in the parade – and a new stage in our parade life began. It was suddenly important to get a good spot along the parade route to see our children take part in the procession. My wife and I would try to guess at which point we would see our kids marching as part of their school groups – as we generally did not know in what order the schools would march. It seemed that their schools never marched early – which meant that an early exit from the parade for us was impossible. However, it did allow us to see a lot more marching bands and schools from across the country walk the parade route.
And now, our eldest grandchild, Sarit Maayan, will be following the tradition of two generations before her … and will be taking part in the Celebrate Israel Parade 2023. We couldn’t be prouder!
Israeli music will be playing. Blue and white flags will be waving everywhere. Jews of all ages – from 9 months to 90 years old — will be cheering and clapping for Israel. Tens of thousands of our brothers and sisters will be joining together with one heart.
Can you imagine what Theodore Herzl would have thought if he were alive to see this celebration? To witness tens of thousands of Jews publicly acknowledging their Jewish identity and demonstrating their support of a Jewish state? A century ago this kind of gathering would have been unimaginable. But here we all are, celebrating the miracle that is Israel.
I hope to see you all at the parade. Am Yisrael Chai!