Israeli President Isaac Herzog lent his voice to promote the upcoming Israel Day parade in New York City amid concerns that political upheaval in Israel will dissuade some groups from participating.
The annual spectacle, organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, will take place along Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue on June 4.
“In these moments when so much of our attention is on what divides us, the JCRC Celebrate Israel parade promises to be a powerful reminder of everything that holds us together as one proud people,” Herzog said in a video message that will be shared on social media ahead of the event.
“Now more than ever, I urge you all to join me in supporting the Israel parade as we mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel,” he said, calling it a “big day” for New York.
The parade, in its 59th year, is known as the largest annual celebration of Israel’s independence in the diaspora. With more than 200 Jewish civic and religious groups expected, representing a spectrum of interests and denominations, the parade features floats, bands and dance troupes that make their way north from 57th to 74th Streets and attracts senior Israeli and New York politicians and candidates. Many shout “am yisrael chai” — Hebrew for “the people of Israel live” into bullhorns.
One of the leading organizers of the event, who requested anonymity to freely discuss planning and internal deliberations, said Herzog was asked to encourage would-be marchers and onlookers to come out for the parade because he is a unifying figure in Israel and could “set the tone” of the parade as a celebration of the country’s 75th anniversary and not an endorsement of the Israeli government’s policies.
Earlier this week, addressing the largest gathering of American Jewish leaders in Israel, Herzog proposed the creation of a “Jewish Davos” to address Israel’s political turmoil. Talks are ongoing at the Israeli president’s residence in Jerusalem, after the suspension of the legislative process, to reach a compromise over a contentious judicial overhaul plan. Critics say it would effectively destroy Israel’s system of checks and balances and leave right-wing extremists in the government unchecked. They rose to power after November’s elections, which returned Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister.
The theme parade’s theme will be “Israel at 75: Renewing the Hope.” It was changed from the initial theme, released last November, that focused more on celebrating the 75-year milestone. Given the political turmoil in Israel, a more forward-looking theme that emphasized Israel as a homeland for all Jews, no matter their politics, seemed more appropriate, organizers said.
American Jewish leaders have also been recruited to help with promotion.
“I celebrate Israel every day regardless of what the government is doing, “ said Amanda Berman, head of the Zioness Movement, a liberal feminist Zionist group that is participating in the parade. Berman, who is currently visiting Israel, said she witnessed the spirit of Zionism in the streets as hoards of Israelis protest the government and wouldn’t want to turn her back on them. “It’s precisely the moment to celebrate the democracy that exists here and the people who are fighting so hard to defend it,” she said.
“The Israel parade, like Israel, belongs to us all,” said Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, the senior rabbi at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. In a recent sermon, he accused the Israeli government of “tearing Israeli society apart and bringing world Jewry along for the dangerous ride.”
JCRC also received supportive statements from Rabbi Rachel of the Sutton Place Synagogue, a Conservative congregation in Midtown Manhattan; Rabbi David Ingber, the founding rabbi of Romemu, the largest Renewal synagogue in the nation; and Ethan Felson, executive director of a Wider Bridge, a non-profit that connects American and Israeli LGBTQ communities.
Organizers also feared last year that Israel supporters would skip the parade, although for different reasons. After a two-year hiatus, due to the coronavirus pandemic, they worried that a rise in antisemitic violence would depress turnout. Leading rabbis from the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform movements co-authored a joint op-ed to encourage members of the Jewish community to show up. Turnout was healthy.
In the video message, Herzog mentioned that he himself marched in the parade in the late 1970s, when he was a student at Ramaz, the elite Jewish prep school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and when his father, Chaim Herzog, was Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations. “Let us raise our voices together to celebrate everything we’ve achieved and everything we have yet to build together for our shared future and the future of our children,” he said.
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