On Sunday, June 2, the 50th Celebrate Israel Parade (formerly the Salute to Israel Parade) will march up Fifth Avenue from 57th Street to 74th Street, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine. The theme is “Picture Israel: The Art & Craft.” The parade will be broadcast on WOR Channel 9, noon-2 p.m. and JL-TV from 2-3 p.m. The Jewish Week recently spoke to the parade’s director, Michael Mittelman.
Q: In New York the parade sometimes seems more of a holiday than even Yom Ha’Atzmaut [Israeli Independence Day], a respite from tough talk and tough love; just love. What’s new to love about the parade this year?
A: It’s an unparalleled day of celebrating Israel. This year all the artwork, the posters, the street banners are by Peter Max. We’ll have 31 floats, more than last year; more than 200 groups, total. Players from the Israeli soccer team (who’ll be playing Honduras later that afternoon at Citi Field) will be on a float. Gilad Segev, the Israeli artist, is coming from Israel. Soulfarm will be here. Tel Aviv DJ Eric Voz will be performing.
Sometimes the many day schools, with their mandatory school attendance, faculty supervision and marching principals in themed T-shirts, give the parade the air of a school assembly, albeit a colorful and happy one. Why can’t the Israel parade have the non-mandatory, spontaneous exuberance of, say, the West Indian or Puerto Rican parade? Other ethnic groups draw more spectators and don’t rely on marching children and the parents who wave to them.
It is school-oriented. Obviously the day schools make up the backbone of the parade, and we’re thrilled they come out. Look, we’ve had 49 years of this parade’s history, and it’s been successful. We’ve tried to add marching bands and street performers, putting it on TV, adding Israeli talent. I think we’ve done a great job of making it more attractive to people. We have people from the Russian community, the Persian community, the Syrian community. We always encourage and try to get new groups out, and we have a great showing of people who attend every year. We were just named by Crain’s as the 14th largest outdoor festival in New York.
Has the parade been able to broaden the base of the marchers and spectators?
We’ve been very successful in bringing in more than 75 new synagogues from across the denominations. And nonprofits also. Last year, Moishe House came as spectators; this year they’re marching. We want this parade to reflect the diversity of our community.
Have there been any issues of exclusion, such as with gays or BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) groups marching? (Until 2012, LGBT groups were not allowed to march openly in the parade.
We’re aware of no issues. Gay groups are marching, and no groups who espouse BDS have approached us to march in the parade.
Is J Street [the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby] marching?
We don’t allow political groups, and that goes for AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee], too.
Is there any conflict with the explicitly political Israel Day Concert in Central Park, adjacent to the parade?
There’s no conflict but we’re not connected to it. (The concert is sponsored by the National Council of Young Israel).
There have been complaints that the Fifth Avenue route is too far from kosher food, affordable parking, subways or bathrooms. Next year is the 50th anniversary of the original Israel parade in 1964 on Riverside Drive, a beautiful route in a more densely populated Jewish neighborhood where more people could walk to the parade, with easier access to everything Fifth Avenue lacks. Has there been talk of a 50th anniversary return to the parade’s roots on Riverside Drive?
A lot of it is dependent on the city and the permit process. We have this permit, this history of being here successfully. And it’s very pretty next to the park. The park is close to where the Celebrate Israel Run [beginning at 8 a.m.] ends up, so we’re convenient for people who go to the run who then want to stick around for the parade. It’s important to highlight that June 2 will be a whole day of events,” from the run to the parade to the Israel-Honduras soccer game.