For a couple of hours on Sunday night, Broadway was The Great Blue-and-White Way.
The “giant block party” marking Israel’s 70th anniversary — during which Times Square’s massive video screens were lit up to tell the story of Israel’s achievements and “history of innovation” — culminated, in bright neon fashion, a day that began Sunday morning along Fifth Avenue. At the 54th annual Celebrate Israel parade, some 40,000 people, many of them day school students, marched up the iconic street waving Israeli flags and singing Hebrew songs under gray skies and with NYPD helicopters whirring overhead.
At Sunday night’s event in Times Square, Israel’s consul general in New York, Dani Dayan, captured the moment.
“Here we are … in the center of Manhattan, in the center of the second most important city in the world after Jerusalem, going to occupy Times Square,” he said during a VIP reception proceeding the event. “At 8 p.m. the screens of Times Square will be painted blue and white, showing the past, the present and the glorious future of the State of Israel. … This is a historical moment.”
Organized by the Consulate of Israel in New York, in collaboration with Israel’s Culture and Sport Ministry, the two-hour event featured short speeches by Dayan and Israel’s culture minister, Miri Regev, followed by performances by Israeli pop stars Shiri Maimon, Omer Adam, Moshe Peretz and Netta Barzilai, Eurovision’s 2018 Song Contest champion.
The screens surrounding the partygoers broadcasted images and short video clips portraying Israel’s scientific and technological contributions to the world — “Can You Imagine Creating Water?” read the opening captions — along with greetings from actors such as Michael Douglas and Mayim Bialik, as well as political leaders including New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“Something like this, requiring this level of synchronization, has never been done here before,” Malki Shem-Tov, the Israeli initiator and co-organizer of the project, told The Jewish Week in a telephone interview. Shem-Tov, owner of AVS creative visual solutions, produced Israel’s 2017 multimedia show for the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem; during last year’s Celebrate Israel parade he approached Dayan with the idea of launching a similar event in Times Square to mark Israel’s 70th anniversary. “I said, ‘Great idea, shame it will never work,’” Dayan recalled.
Dayan told The Jewish Week that carrying out the production, which cost Israel’s culture and sports ministry over $1.5 million, required “overcoming one hurdle after another,” from budgeting problems to technical issues with Times Square’s screens. The biggest challenge was security: In the weeks leading up to the Times Square event, Israeli media reported that in light of recent tensions between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, fears of a terrorist attack being executed in the center of Manhattan led Israeli security officials to ban ambassadors and diplomats from attending. Dayan, while not addressing these reports directly, noted that Israel’s security officials cautioned the NYPD that the event should not be carried out under the current conditions, and that NYPD had beefed up security for the day to meet the Israelis’ request. According to media reports, 1,000 officers were deployed to secure the parade route along Fifth Avenue, with rooftop snipers as well as 70 blocker vehicles to prevent car-ramming incidents, and numerous trucks loaded with sand to provide a protective barrier in the event of a bombing. The party area in Times Square alone was ringed by dozens of officers and Israeli security personnel, while dozens of sand trucks and police cars blocked the nearby streets. “Of all the consulates in NYC, only we would get this kind of treatment,” said Dayan, stressing that “we have developed an excellent relationship with the NYPD.”
For the estimated hundreds of participants in the section of Times Square cordoned off for the block party, the investment seemed to pay off.
Miriam Greenberg has three sons now living in Israel, the youngest of whom is a “lone soldier” — a soldier with no family in Israel to provide support. Greenberg had marched all day in the parade with the Lone Soldier Center and was already back home in Teaneck, N.J., when friends told her about the block party in Times Square. She came right back to Manhattan. “I’m so happy I did,” she declared, “I can really feel the love … . Am Israel Chai!”
Along Fifth Avenue earlier in the day, Manhattan resident Al Teichman seemed to sum up the sentiment of many at the parade. As a duet singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” passed by 72nd Street in a government of Israel-sponsored float, Teichman said, “I try to come every year to support Israel. It’s especially important this year,” he said, as Israel’s 70 anniversary falls amid the backdrop of recent clashes in Gaza and the Trump administration’s designation of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
But those realities seemed far off, at least for the moment. “New York,” he said, “is a pro-Israel city, whichever way you slice it.”