Politics and music mixed as easily as kosher hot dogs and Israeli flags on June 3 at the Celebrate Israel Concert in New York’s Central Park, an informal conservative-tinged afterparty to the annual parade down Fifth Ave.
The entrance to Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield required passing through two security checkpoints (replete with a assault weapon-toting police officer) and a man wielding bright orange flyers, advertising a contest for “an awesome trip to Israel.”
Jews of all kinds filled the concert green. There were just as many women in sheitels as wearing tanktops. All gathered around the stage nodding happily as two Israelis in three-piece suits crooned their love for Israel, with ballads such as “If I Forget You (Oh Jerusalem)” and “The Land of Your Soul.”
The concert, sponsored by the National Council of Young Israel takes place every year after the Celebrate Israel Parade. It has a distinctly more conservative flavor and parade organizers explicitly state that the two events are not affiliated.
The day was humid with warmth, the air thick with the potential of both rain and a sunburn. A Mendy’s Kosher Delicatessen food cart served $3.50 frankfurters and potato knishes. People milled around the outskirts of the area chatting or sat in folding chairs nodding their heads to the music.
On stage, Israeli-flag-cloaked teenagers waved the flags of the Twelve Tribes of Israel as Yehuda Green, a Hasidic singer, and his silvering beard bopped around the stage singing with his eyes closed.
Interspersed with the Hebrew music were announcements decrying the Boycott Israel movement, extolling the need for Israel to hold onto the West Bank and promoting the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind.
“We must protect the places that Jews live in, the places that the Israeli government is trying to destroy,” said Helen Freedman, Executive Director of Americans For a Safe Israel, referring to illegal Jewish settlements. “We plant trees and they (the Israeli government) destroy them. They do all this in order to give them to Arabs.”
Though the event was pulsing with such political undertones, most people were not interested in talking politics. Similar to the love songs being sung on the stage, many explained their connection to Israel with passionate romanticism.
“I’m not really into politics, or policy,” said Tamye Roth-Aber, a mother of three. “We’re not going to always be safe in America. It’s good now, but not forever. Another holocaust could happen in a minute—we need a homeland.
Hyman Wilkie Silverglad had spent his day handing out fliers warning about the dangers of certain left-wing groups marching in the parade that he deemed “anti-Israel” because of their alleged connection with the Boycott Israel movement.
“I’ve been to Norway. I saw them put the Jewish stars on the oranges, saying, ‘You shouldn’t buy these oranges because they are from Israel,’” said Silverglad, who is in his 80s. “They’ve lost me forever.”