Beautifully crafted and decorated signs were in full display on June 3 at “Celebrate Israel” parade, many of them paying homage to this year’s theme of “70 and Sababa!” Others held by the tens of thousands of people from the New York and elsewhere focused on Israel’s unity, strength and freedom. One sign read “Israel @70: Still Putting Its Stamp on the Future,” while another said “70 Years a Free People in Our Own Land.” Some marchers held signs that said “70” or “SABABA” in big, bright letters, while others held posters that depicted Israel’s innovations, such as the navigation app Waze. Another group of marchers held a banner that featured pictures of Israel’s popular sites, such as the Western Wall, Dead Sea and the open-air Middle Eastern marketplaces known as “shuks.”
The America China Public Affairs Institute had a float that boosted Israel’s friendship with China by featuring an enlarged photograph of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and China’s President Xi Jinping. Another banner held by marchers read “70 years of turning desert land into green land,” and one group towards the end of the parade held signs with the pictures of Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul—two Israel Defense Force soldiers killed in action by Hamas during Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014. Written on the same signs was a popular Jewish phrase that translates to: “All of Israel is responsible for one another.”
The five-hour procession, which went up Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue from 57th Street to 74th Street, included a number of special guests, including Dr. Ruth Westheimer, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Israeli Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James (who is running for attorney general), Israeli chef Eyal Shani and Israeli Consul General Dani Dayan. Earlier in the day, Israeli Consul General of New York Dayan, said that outside of Jerusalem, New York is “the capital of the world.”
New York Govenor Andrew Cuomo, who is running for reelection, served as the parade’s honorary grand marshal.
“Too often today diversity is seen as a weakness, but we know it’s our strength. NY wouldn’t be NY without the Jewish community,” Cuomo said in tweet.
American Friends of Magen David Adom, one of the sponsors of the parade, noted that the organization works alongside the Israel Defense Forces, saving lives 24 hours a day. The parade is important, an MDA spokesperson told JNS, because it helps New Yorkers feel connected to that same mission, “even when we’re thousands of miles away.”
Jewish rapper Kosher Dillz and singer Lipa Schmeltzer were among the event’s performers. Many of the groups that marched in the parade played popular Israeli songs, including the now ever-present “Toy,” the song performed by Israeli Netta Barzilai that won this year’s Eurovision.
Security was tightened at this year’s event, with double metal barricades placed on each block down the path of the parade—something not done in previous years. The New York City Police Department said that more than 1,000 officers, bomb-sniffing dogs, sharpshooters on rooftops and radiation-detection devices were used to secure the area surrounding the event, according to the Associated Press. Sanitation trucks filled with sand-blocked streets were stationed to prevent vehicle attacks. NYPD Chief of Patrol Rodney Harrison noted that precautions were taken in response to threats of terrorism in Israel, the Middle East, Europe and around the world.
Anti-Israel protesters at the parade were confined to a small area on Fifth Avenue, south of Central Park. At the end of the parade, they were escorted by police officers to a nearby parking garage, where many of them had left their vehicles, to avoid any violence that may have ensued with Israel supporters. No incidents were reported.
‘A country to go to’
Rachel, 75, a native New Yorker who lives a few blocks away from the site of the parade, said she has been attending the parade every year, and it always makes her emotional. She told JNS: “I started to cry just now [watching the parade]. Every year, I get so enamored. What we go through in life, and yet we survive. My dad was a Holocaust survivor. You realize the chutzpah and courage we have to survive anything that we’re going through.”
“We have survived all these attacks that we’ve had,” she added. “Hashem is taking care of us. We are his people. His chosen people.”
Lior Arussy, also a New Yorker, said he is proud of Israel’s innovation and how the country is making a change in the world. He told JNS, “I think Israel has made a lot of impact on the world, and the fact that such a small tiny place can do that, it’s cool. … It’s all about the lax way in which Israel just makes it happen, even though it’s not disciplined and rigid. I think the country has shown a lot of flexibility in order to survive both the threats and the opportunities.”
Menachem Jacob, a father of two, said he believes Israel’s greatest accomplishment in the last 70 years is bringing democracy to the Middle East. He added that Israel provides safety net for those seeking refuge. He explained, “My parents are Holocaust survivors. So just to feel safe that my kids and their kids can grow up knowing that they have a country they can go to if they get in the same kind of trouble my parents got into … that’s my favorite part about Israel.”
Although the parade ended at 4 p.m., additional celebrations were held in Central Park, with festivities continuing in the evening in Times Square with music by Israeli singer Shiri Maimon and DJ Omri Anghel. There was also a display of Israeli innovation and a recap of the country’s first 70 years across the screens of Times Square. Dayan addressed the hundreds of people who gathered there, talking about the significance of taking over the Manhattan hotspot and covering it “in blue and white” to celebrate Israel’s 70 years of independence.
And Danon said on Sunday: “It’s gratifying to see the support that Israel receives in New York, throughout the United States and from all over the world.”