Fashionable 5th Avenue in New York City morphed into a veritable sea of blue and white on Sunday, June 2 to throw a grandiose 65th birthday bash for the State of Israel. The 48th annual Celebrate Israel parade attracted over 35,000 marchers and 1 million exuberant spectators who cheered them on in stereotypical New York style, as they held aloft both Israeli and American flags.
In addition to the march participants who represented over 200 organizations and a litany of synagogues, Jewish community centers and day schools, 17 marching bands and 30 eye catching floats licked off the festivities at 11 am on 57th Street. The march ended at 74th Street with skyrocketing spirits.
A very special highlight of the parade included a first-time-ever float sponsored by The Jewish Voice newspaper. With a palpable excitement in his voice, publisher David Ben Hooren exclaimed, "We couldn't be more thrilled than to participate in this wonderful celebration of Israel's survival. Our float is a testament to our unwavering support for the one and only Jewish state; a state that has made extraordinary accomplishments in all fields and all walks of life and has so greatly benefited its people and the entire world."
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing in April, security measures for the parade were exceptionally stringent. As he watched the parade participants line up in their designated places and the helicopters swirling above, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told the media that, "We're always changing our approach, but I think we would say that the Boston Marathon bombing has had an effect on what we do, and it's only common senses to do that, so we brought more resources into play."
The security initiatives to which Commissioner Kelly was referring to were New York City Police Department helicopters with special sensors to detect radiation on the ground, a car designed for purposes of counterterrorism with a 360-degree camera to search for specific packages and a bevy of bomb-sniffing dogs strategically placed all along the route of the parade to check for explosives.
Moreover, CBS News reported that video cameras were mounted in the NYPD's "Eyes in the Sky" booth and were used to send a continuous feed to the Security Coordination Center. "We live in a dangerous world," said Mayor Bloomberg at the parade. "Sadly, there have been some tragedies, whether Sandy Hook or London, where people are getting killed. There are other people who aren't happy with the way the world's changing; don't want to let you have your rights. We're just going to provide the kind of security we need."
"We here in New York, whether we're Jewish, whether we're not Jewish to identify with Israel. It's in our spirit, it's in our soul," said Michael Miller, the president of the Jewish Community Relations Council. "And it's so important for us to broadcast the message not only to the world that we stand with Israel, but to Israel that we stand with Israel. We broadcast this on the web, I have grandchildren who watch it."
The theme of this year's parade was "Picture Israel" and the marchers carried colorful illustrations, collages, paintings, and other art forms. According to the parade website, the art work was designed “to show the diversity of Israel and its people, the land/sea/cityscapes, accomplishments, etc.”
The day got off to a rousing start at 8 am when over 5000 runners gathered in Central Park for the 4-mile Celebrate Israel race, sponsored by the New York Road Runners Club in conjunction with the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Agency of Israel. The symbolic 4-mile race represented a journey through Israel, from Eilat to Tel Aviv. The winner of the race was Ketema Niguisse, 32, of Ethiopia and the West Side Runners team in 20:05 which is just over five minutes per mile.
Following the race, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty held their annual legislative breakfast prior to the parade. On hand was a formidable contigent of politicians, elected officials and community leaders.
On hand to shore up their support amongst New York's Jewish voters were the group of mayoral hopefuls from both sides of the aisle.
Republican candidate John Catsimatidis said, "The Jewish vote is very important. I've lit the menorah on Central Park South for 25 years, so I'm not a Johnny-come-lately Jew." Former MTA chairman and another Republican candidate for mayor, Joe Lhota said, "The Jewish community is very important. They all come out to vote. They all make their voices known. They're an engaged community."
The roster of Democratic candidates were also present including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and former city comptroller William Thompson. The embattled Democratic mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner attempted to engage spectators along the route while dashing from one side of the street to the other and posing for pictures. One person accused Weiner of "making a mockery of this parade."
A new CBS 2/Rasmussen poll match-up between frontrunners Democrat Christine Quinn and Republican Joe Lhota shows Quinn far ahead at this juncture, with 49 percent of support from eligible voters, compared to 27 percent in favor of Mr. Lhota.
After holding office for 12 years, this parade was the last for Michael Bloomberg in his role as mayor of New York, but he was joined on the parade route by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and US Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) who shouted, "Let's hear it for Israel and America."
Because Israel depends on new immigrants for its sustenance and survival, one of the most outstanding groups represented at the parade was the Nefesh B'Nefesh organization which devotes itself to assisting in "aliyah", immigration to Israel for Jews from around the world.
Because the process of moving to Israel can be overwhelming and confusing at times, Nefesh B’Nefesh has eased the way by providing guidance through all stages of the aliyah process. For those who are at the initial stages of aliyah planning, Nefesh B’Nefesh can be contacted with questions about applications, education and community options, assistance in planning pilot trips, information about Israeli citizenship and queries regarding the organization’s financial aid and aliyah flights. In addition, staff members are regularly available for personal consultations in dozens of communities throughout the U.S., Canada and the U.K.
“What really defines Nefesh B’Nefesh is that we truly reach out to all communities, as we sponsor literally hundreds and hundreds of seminars and presentations at all synagogues, temples and Jewish community centers throughout the US and Canada We have discovered that a great many people do have a strong interest in Israel and really want to be part of the perennial Jewish narrative,’ says Nefesh B'Nefesh chairman Mr. Gelbart.
Among the groups marching in the parade were the unique Chai Riders, a Jewish motorcycle club. Joining them were a variety of Jewish schools including the Magen David Yeshiva in Brooklyn, Yeshiva of Flatbush, Shulamit School for Girls, HAFTR – Lower, Middle & High Schools, HALB – Middle School, DRS, SKA, HANC – Lower, Middle & High Schools, Touro College, Yeshiva University, the Kinneret Day School, the Yeshiva of Northern New Jersey, the Maimonides Academy and the Manhattan Day School, to name just a few.