The Diminishing Parade

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If you attended yesterday’s “Israel Day on 5th” as I did, you may have felt that something was definitely off. It had most of the trappings of the traditional parade but there was also a lot missing. Watching it on TV or streaming you may not have been aware of this.

Let’s start with the name. Today’s “parade” was called Israel Day on 5th. Originally it was called Salute to Israel Parade. That was the one I’ve been watching or marching in ever since I was in grade school. Then thirteen years ago the name was changed to Celebrate Israel Parade.” Why? I can only conjecture that they may have thought that “salute” had military overtones that they preferred to eliminate. Personally, I always liked the military connotation and referred to it by its original name. The connotation was that we were proud of Israel, bordering on in awe of this wonderful homeland for all Jews.

It got worse. In 2020, at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, it was cancelled. In 2021, it was also cancelled, but instead of just admitting it, the organizers pretended that a parade could be virtual. If that wasn’t silly enough, the powers that be decided to postpone the “virtual” parade from its original date in June to the following week, because, get this, the virtual parade would interfere with a Black Lives Matter real, in-person protest taking place that day. So those in charge said we should show our solidarity by not holding a “virtual “ parade that day.

I won’t go into the many levels of pure idiocy regarding this decision. Needless to say, I, as well as most parade goers, didn’t involve ourselves in the pretend parade. Finally in 2022 the regular parade resumed with the regular cast of paraders.

This brings us to 2024. Now, the brand, if you will, was further diluted from Celebrate Israel to the bland Israel Day on 5th. No longer concerned about COVID, this year’s organizers were worried about the rabid anti-Israel protestors who could disrupt the parade. So government officials went into overdrive and overtime to provide the utmost in police protection: double the number of police, police with dogs, police on bikes, drones, a helicopter, anti-terrorist unit members marching alongside us, undercover police, auxiliary police. It almost turned into the Police Parade. In addition, there were barriers galore, a double row on the east and west side of 5th Avenue and spectators were limited to just one side of the street and just ten blocks. And there was a 10 foot no-go zone between the marchers and the viewers. The counter protestors were hustled off to somewhere on Madison.

While I can understand the need for extra protection in light of the nasty and off-putting demonstrations in favor of a “Free Palestine” whatever that means, I couldn’t help but feel that we were the ones being punished. The result was that spectators were limited and that marchers’ ability to join in and exit the route were hampered greatly. So if you wanted to watch the parade for about an hour or two and later join your group, you couldn’t. And once you finished marching you couldn’t easily enter the viewing area. If you needed a rest room, forget about it. Remember tens of thousands of kids marched and not a portapotty in sight. Also there were no marching bands. Instead you could hear “Bring Them Home” over and over and over again.

Given the situation in Israel, it was understandable. In fact, the most impactful portion of the parade were the multitudes of marchers wearing the Bring Them Home black teeshirts and hats and holding huge Israel flags. I was among them. But I couldn’t help but notice that for the first seven blocks or so no one was watching. We were yelling, but no one was there to listen. It was distressing.

And the overwhelming police presence was a constant reminder of the hate we have to endure in our own country.

Still the turnout was great. It served to bring us together, to show our pride in Israel, and to just show up.

Was it worth it? Well I got a nice teeshirt that read “One People, One Heart,” I got to see several of my family and friends. And at least, I knew New York City was behind us. I didn’t see any counter protests. But in strange way I kind of missed that. Those opposed to Israel, mainly Neturei Karta, and more recently a small contingent of Palestinians and a bunch of their supporters have been a small, but American, part of our parade experience. It signaled that we could fairly easily handle those who are not on our side. We could have a satisfying shouting match and continue to march. This year we didn’t see them, although I’m sure they were somewhere in the city. I just hope that next year we won’t have to employ such extreme security measures to have a safe and accessible parade.

About the Author
Gina Friedlander is obsessed with all things Israeli. She served as editor of several trade magazines in the health and supplement industries before switching careers and becoming a high school English teacher and tutor of English and SAT prep. Currently she spends her time visiting Israel, writing, playing tennis, doing Israeli folk dancing, and trying to stay positive.
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