June 2, 2008

Israel at 60: American Jews Celebrate at Israel Day Parade

NEW YORK CITY'S fashionable Fifth Avenue was transformed in to a sea of blue and white as crystal clear blue skies, a searing sun, Israeli music and thousands of marchers and spectators were the order of the day on Sunday, June 1st at the 44th annual Salute to Israel parade.

As Israel celebrated the 60th anniversary since its creation as a modern state, Jews and non-Jews spanning the globe made sure this party was held in grand style.

Thousands of marchers representing a vast array of Yeshivos, Jewish Day Schools, synagogues, temples, service organizations, community centers, Jewish businesses and Israeli government agencies gathered on side streets awaiting their turn to join the parade, while tens of thousands of spectators, holding Israeli flags lined both sides of Fifth Avenue all the way up to 86th Street to pay homage to the Jewish State.

"Today we asked G-d not to rain on our parade, and thankfully we had the most optimal conditions," said Mark Moskowitz of Belle Harbor, NY, a spectator who brought his entire family.

To highlight the theme of this year's parade, "The Story of Sixty Years", the parade opened with sixty shofar blowers and closed with sixty motorcycle riders bearing flags of Israel.

Wearing T-shirts bearing their school names and logos, the marchers, for the most part, were bedecked in the colors of the Israeli flag and both Israeli and American flags were proudly hoisted under the glaring sun.

Among the groups marching were such schools as the Magen David Yeshiva of Brooklyn, Yeshiva of Flatbush High School of Brooklyn, Ramaz Day School of Manhattan, Shulamith High School for Girls from Brooklyn, HAFTR (Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway), Jewish Foundation School of Staten Island, Yeshiva University and Stern College of Manhattan, Yeshiva of Crown Heights, Yeshiva Chovavei Torah Rabbinical School of the Bronx, among hundreds of others.

The parade also included appearances by politicians such as Brooklyn Congressman Anthony Weiner who represents one of the largest Jewish constituencies in the country, US Senator from New York Charles Schumer and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

No parade would be complete without floats and entertainers and this parade was no exception.

Festively decorated blue and white floats representing such internationally renowned Israeli companies such as El Al Airlines, Bank Leumi, Bank HaPoalim and the Israeli Defense Ministry played popular Hebrew tunes and Israeli songs through their sound systems as their personnel waved to well wishers.

Over twenty marching bands selected from various high schools and colleges around the country also participated, offering their own unique musical style.

Russian Ballet, Bukharin and Georgian dancers in costumes along with Israeli folk dancers and ballroom dancers added their distinct style and dimension while other entertainers such as strolling violinists and Klezmer bands drew their own following.

Youngsters enjoyed a bevy of street performers, clowns, jugglers, and face painters.


Current events and the political climate in the Middle East were showcased as well, as both anti-Israel and pro-Israel demonstrators gathered at 59th Street and 5th Avenue to give voice to their perspectives on the immutable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. About 60 demonstrators representing such organizations as "Free Palestine," the Revolutionary Communist Party and the anti-Zionist Chareidi movement Neturei Karta, held signs calling for an "End to Israeli Occupation of Palestine" and took aim at the IDF by lambasting them with such signs as "Israeli Army = War Criminals."

Other radical Muslim extremists held signs saying "May Allah Give Victory to the Islamic Resistance in Palestine". Some signs smacked of overt anti-Semitism, such as "The Holocaust was a Hoax" and "Death to All Juice."

Waving Palestinian flags both large and small the anti-Israel protestors excoriated Israel as "thieves" and demanded its dismantlement.

The members of Neturei Karta joined their Palestinian counterparts with their own signs saying "The Torah demands all Palestine to be returned to Palestinian Sovereignty" and "We Mourn 60 Years of the Existence of Israel". They, too waved Palestinian flags and confronted marchers in the parade.

Across the street, a cadre of pro-Israel counter-protestors vocally responded to the diatribes being leveled against them by the anti-Israel demonstrators by calling the members of Neturei Karta. "traitorous dogs" and severely castigated the Palestinians as "purveyors of agitprop and mendacity" and "ruthless, bloodthirsty terrorists". They held signs saying "Hamas - Stop Racist Terrorism" and "Israel is for Peace - Hamas and Hezbollah want Jewish blood". This was a direct reference to the daily rocket attacks on the southern Israeli city of Sderot, launched by Hamas in Gaza.

Leading the pro-Israel contingent were several young men representing the Jabotinsky-based Zionist-youth movement, Betar.

Wearing their Betar (tilboshet) uniforms and carrying a blue Betar flag they called for an end to Arab terror in Israel.

Betar mefaked (commander), Yonaton Ben Yair, displayed tremendous courage by carrying a sign that said, "Arabs Out of Israel".

"The State of Israel can no longer abide the burgeoning hostilities of the malignant Arab population.” Ben Yair said. “In order for Israel to remain a Jewish state, the Arabs must be transferred to any of their 22 countries in a population exchange."

Israel Day Concert

Later in the day, both marchers and spectators converged on Central Park to enjoy the 15th annual, Dr. Mandred R. Lehmann Memorial Israel Day Concert.

The free concert at Central Park's summer stage was dedicated in the memory of the eight young yeshiva boys murdered by a Palestinian terrorist at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav in Jerusalem on March 6th of this year.

The concert was sponsored by a broad spectrum of organizations and businesses such as The Hebron Fund, the Zionist Organization of America, Americans for a Safe Israel, Winick Realty Group, Meridian Capital Group and Arutz Sheva.

It featured the best in Jewish and Israeli entertainment.

Groups and solo entertainers such as The Piamenta Band, Simply Tsfat, band leader Jerry Markowitz, Shloimy Bluth, Yaakov Chesed, HaMakor, Shlomo Haviv, Yechiel Lichtiger, Shlomi Aharoni and singing sensation Chaim Kiss regaled the overflowing audience with songs praising Hashem and the Land of Israel.

Special appearances were made by politicians such as Brooklyn Assembylman Dov Hikind, Brooklyn Congressman Anthony Weiner, New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. Dinapoli and New York City Councilman David Weprin.

Prominent Zionist activists such as MK Dr. Arieh Eldad, founder of the Hatikvah party, Rabbi David Fendel, from the Yeshivat Hesder in Sderot, Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America and Daniel Luria of the Jerusalem Reclamation Project addressed the concert audience as well.