The New Face of New York's Israel Day Parade

While the Salute to Israel parade is still very energetic, it is marching on borrowed time. New York’s leading Jewish intelligentsia - the new Brooklyn bohemia and Columbia students - are not here.

NEW YORK − This year too there was a parade. On Sunday, New York City’s Fifth Avenue filled with the huge commotion of the pro-Israel procession. For five consecutive hours tens of thousands of marchers flooded Manhattan’s center with Israeli songs, Mizrahi music and thousands of blue-and-white flags demonstrating sweeping support for the Jewish state.

Rightist organizations sang their love for Israel, leftist organizations called out their loyalty to Israel, the Orthodox schools showed their strength, the Conservative and Reform synagogues displayed their presence and Jewish gays marched their pride.

Khaki-wearing Friends of the IDF in America held giant flags of “My Golani” while muscular jeans-wearing members of the Jewish Bikers Club roared with Zionist Harley Davidsons. With countless signs of “The Israeli nation lives,” “If I forget thee Jerusalem” and “We stand with Israel,” the American Jewish community shouted out its power and commitment to the Israeli Jewish state, again. “He who believes is not afraid,” they sang this week on Fifth Avenue.

I couldn’t break away from the colorful, vibrant human river flowing along Central Park. Years ago, when I was an Israeli child in New York, the pro-Israel parade was a big deal. But then it was the Israel of the period between the Six-Day War and the raid on Entebbe − a source of pride. The Jewish community then consisted of those who remembered the Holocaust, and were guilt-ridden for their feeble public response during World War II.

Before the intifadas and before the occupation awareness and before the sweeping international condemnation, the Zionist state indeed provided the Jewish Diaspora with a pillar of fire for its identity.

But today? When they’re waging a rear-guard war in universities to save Israel’s legitimacy? When to most secular Jewish youngsters Israel is some distant, embarrassing relative? So where does all this energy to march come from? Why can New York still celebrate Israel, as Tel Aviv can only celebrate Gay Pride, or love, or universal conscription?

The reason is that the dependence is still deep and mutual. The American Jewish community cannot survive without Israeli sovereignty, as Israeli sovereignty cannot survive without the American Jewish community. The marchers in the avenue need Israel as a focus of self-definition and Israel needs them as a strategic home front.
But while Israelis tend to ignore this basic fact, the Jews on the Hudson are aware of it. So the Yeshivah of Flatbush and the Ramaz School are not the only marchers; so are J Street and the New Israel Fund and Peter Beinart.

Settlement supporters and settlement opposers are all still building their identity through an intensive dialogue with the Israeli experience ‏(which few of them know‏), with Hebrew ‏(which few of them speak‏), and with the Zionist adventure ‏(on whose real significance they disagree‏).

But although the Salute to Israel parade is still very energetic, it is marching on borrowed time. New York’s leading Jewish intelligentsia − the new Brooklyn bohemia and Columbia students − are not here.

The quiet Jewish majority, unorganized and unmobilized, still wants to love Israel, but feels Israel is not letting it love her. Is it a high-tech nation or a settlers’ nation? Is it Yair Lapid or the ultra-Orthodox nationalists? The confusion is immense. Israel does not present a clear story they can identify with.

There is no bright and shining member of the family beyond the sea they can be proud of. So Israel’s mission today is to stretch its hand out not only to the marchers in the avenue but to those who are no longer marching. Israel’s future depends to a large extent on the character and might of the Israel parade that marches down Fifth Avenue in 2020, 2030 and 2040.