Opinion

Why I'm Raining on the Macy's-style 'Jewish Unity' Charade-Parade in Jerusalem

A crude and incongruous import of American capitalist excess, and parading Pittsburgh Jews as objects of pity, is certainly no way to repair relations between U.S. Jews and Israel

The Sesame Street character Super Grover makes its way down Broadway in New York during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. November 25, 2004
REUTERS

In the wake of the Pittsburgh massacre, I had no great expectations about how Netanyahu’s government would respond.

Denounce the rise of white nationalism? None of his officials were going to rock the precious Trump boat by expressing the support American Jews could have really used at that time.

Stating the basic fact that a Conservative synagogue is indeed a synagogue? In a world in which the Rabbanut oppresses any non-Orthodox form of Jewish practice, the Chief Rabbi’s degrading response was no great shock.

Donald Trump and Melania Trump, alongside Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, place stones and flowers on a memorial at the Tree of Life Synagogue following the shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. October 30, 2018
AFP

Many of my American friends expressed disappointment, asking themselves how Israel’s response could be so lackluster. I wasn’t disappointed. After all, how can one be disappointed when one has learned to expect absolutely nothing?

Then this article happened. I was in a cab in Tel Aviv when I read that Macy’s Parade balloons would soon grace the streets of Jerusalem: "'Together - walking with world Jewry' will be a show of unity between Jews in Israel and Jews in the Diaspora."

At first, I laughed, a lot. Then I was annoyed. Really annoyed.

First, the basics: According to a breathless statement by Israel's Diaspora Ministry, the city that once housed two Temples and their mass pilgrimages and celebrations was about to see what was hyped as “the biggest and most impressive events that the capital has known.”

According to that initial report, several gigantic balloons (of Disney and Marvel characters) from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade would be folded up, sent to Israel, and inflated again. Their size are a marvel on the wide streets of Midtown Manhattan: on the narrow streets of Jerusalem, they would be nothing short of gargantuan.

A day later, after Macy's denied it was involved at all, the Diaspora Ministry backtracked and sent out a statement saying that, indeed, there was no Macy's involvement, but that it would be aspirationally "Macy's-style," rather than the real thing.

Jerusalem’s light rail travelling through Jaffa Road, the main commercial thoroughfare of West Jerusalem
Emil Salman

Ynet also reported that there will be youth movements, marching bands, and a performance by Matisyahu. And in a wonderful, more educational gesture, Beit Hatfutsot - The Museum of the Jewish People will be holding an exhibition about diaspora Jewry in Jerusalem surrounding the event.

You might be asking yourself what I can possibly find wrong with a parade, or more specifically, why I am raining on it. Israeli kids will surely enjoy the sights of their favorite characters bobbing in the air, and I am not against kids having fun.

But let’s talk for a second about the optics.

Just a few weeks ago, Israel disappointed the few American Jews who do not blindly support everything that Bibi does, but still held some hope of seeing their concerns shared and reflected by the leaders of the Jewish State.

So what do Bennett and his folks in the Diaspora Affairs Ministry think will fix it? Apparently, the solution in their eyes is to put on a giant parade displaying for Israelis some tangible representations of American capitalist excess.

The Macy’s parade is about Thanksgiving, I guess, but it also rings in the official start of the holiday shopping season. As those balloons float down the streets of Jerusalem, I can only imagine that the all-too common impression of American Jews here - that we are just good for our money - will simply be reinforced.

Pedestrians and shoppers pass in front of a Macy's Inc. store in New York, U.S. July 18, 2016
Bloomberg

Then I thought about the Jews from Pittsburgh they are hoping to fly in for the event. Are they going to be paraded around (literally) as representations of the sad and pathetic diaspora Jews Israelis are too often told we are?

Will the Israeli and American-Israeli audience console, honor, and support them, or use them as a mirror through which to source some internal pride and validation, or perhaps both? (How many times did I hear in Israel after Pittsburgh, "This is why we need an Israel, because Jews are never safe in the diaspora!" And then a few weeks later, rockets came flying down on Israel).

I thought about the money someone is spending to pay for this giant parade-charade, and the many better causes that such money could go towards. How about more funding for Beit Hatfutsot, or for translating more books on the history and culture of American Jewry into Hebrew? What about creating a thorough curriculum made for Israeli school children about American Jews and diaspora Jews more broadly?

There are so many ways Israel could be supporting a broader awareness here about the millions of Jews who live, create, and thrive outside of this country, but it seems we are only relevant here when we are philanthropists, immigrants, or "traitors."

On the flipside, American Jews put millions of dollars a year towards Israel education, teaching Jewish youth almost nothing about their own histories in America or elsewhere. Why talk about American Jewish history or any of the rich cultures of the diaspora when you can simulate army drills and make maps of Israel out of ice cream?

The Spongebob Squarepants balloon makes its way down Broadway for its first appearance in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, in New York. November 25, 2004
REUTERS

Yes, this is a cynical and lachrymose analysis for something that is supposed to be fun. It’s just a parade! But how does a parade taking place in Israel express support for and unity with American Jews?

If this event is intended to erase, or at least alleviate, the disappointments of the last several years of Israel-America relations, I for one am not impressed. If the Diaspora Affairs Ministry wants to fix some of the problems in the Israel-America relationship, it should start with promoting respect and understanding of who American Jews are culturally, religiously, and politically.

If Israeli schools were to teach about American Jewry even a fraction of the amount American Jewish institutions teach their children about Israel, we would likely witness a positive shift in the relationship between Israeli and American Jews of future generations. How about more programs offered about American Jews in Israeli universities, and more attempts to bring Israelis to America to learn about us rather than just the other way around?

I am not holding my breath for full, unfettered, and fearless support when terrible things happen in American Jewish communities. It is clear that Netanyahu’s government will not make moves that risk ruffling Trump’s feathers, at least not for their fellow yidn.

But as a Jew with a foot in both countries, I would find these other steps much more meaningful than a parade.

When I’m home in Brooklyn for Thanksgiving, you can’t pay me to take the subway up to teeming 34th street for the real Macy’s parade. Though the crowds will be fewer and less bridge-and-tunnel here, I don’t think I’ll be taking the bus to Jerusalem on December 3rd either.

Sandra Fox is an American Jewish historian. She is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at Ben Gurion University, and is the producer and founder of Vaybertaytsh: A Feminist Podcast in Yiddish. Twitter: @vaybertaytsh