After a two-year hiatus, the Israel parade returns to Fifth Avenue with a message of unity
For decades, one of the most public ways to demonstrate a love for Israel has been to march down Fifth Avenue in the Israel Day Parade, a rite of spring for thousands of New Yorkers, and an opportunity for politicians to connect with Jewish voters. Organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the annual spectacle of marching bands, Israeli flags and candidates shouting “am yisrael chai” into bullhorns took a two-year break because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For all the value and benefit of Zoom, virtual world and social media, there is nothing that replaces feet on the ground,” said Gideon Taylor, JCRC’s new chief executive. “If you want to show your support, show your engagement, you have to be present.”
The 58-year-old parade, possibly the largest annual celebration of Israel’s independence in the diaspora, this year features 23 floats, 13 bands and three dance troupes that will make their way north on Sunday, from 57th to 74th Streets, starting at 11:30 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m. The theme, “Together Again,” is meant to promote unity and inclusion at a time when many in the Jewish community are worried about its fractures — because of the isolating effects of the pandemic, and differences of opinion on Israel.
Prominent Israeli and New York politicians are leading the parade, including Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, and Pnina Tamano-Shata, the first Ethiopian-born Israeli cabinet minister.
And the parade will bring together more than 200 Jewish civic and religious groups representing various interests, political points of view and denominations.
Several leading rabbis from the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform movements recently co-authored a joint op-ed in which they describe a sense of fear within the Jewish community, as antisemitic violence rises in the U.S. and Israelis confront a new wave of terror attacks.
“It’s exactly this backdrop that makes it more important than ever before for us to come together as one Jewish community, proud and unafraid, for the first in-person Celebrate Israel Parade since 2019,” they wrote.
Members of the Knesset, representing the right-wing Likud and left-wing Labour parties, and two members of the City Council’s Jewish Caucus, also urged people to participate in the parade.
“New York City has the largest population of Jews outside of Israel,” wrote Councilmembers Eric Dinowitz, a Democratic from the Bronx, and Inna Vernikov, a Republican from Brooklyn. “In recent years that community has shown fracture in relationship both to each other and to Israel. Events like the parade bridge the divide among us.”
In 2013, the organizers allowed LGBT groups to participate for the first time, despite some Orthodox opposition.
“It is critically important that this be a community event,” Taylor said in an interview. He added that celebrating Israel, despite the range of opinions on Israeli policy, serves that purpose.
Taylor added that the parade also reflects resilience and defiance in the face of a dramatic rise in antisemitic attacks. “It’s not something that can be taken for granted that a community feels comfortable to walk on the biggest street in the city, and to say they are proud in support of Israel,” he said.