Five decades ago, longtime Brooklynite Grace Salant marched in the Israel day parade with her several young children trailing alongside.
On Sunday, at age 91, Salant marched solo. Her children? “Well,” she told The Jewish Week, “they’re about old enough to retire.”
At the 50th installment of what is now called Celebrate Israel, Salant was believed to be the oldest Israel supporter to make it the length of the route up Fifth Avenue, from 57th to 74th Street. Marching with the Brooklyn region of Hadassah, Salant held the international women’s group’s banner from start to finish. But that, it turned out, was a mere stroll — earlier that day she took part in the Celebrate Israel four-mile run in Central Park, a joint effort of the Jewish Community Relations Council and the New York Road Runners. She finished that one too, walking as well as running, according to her Hadassah running mates.
“I’ve never missed a parade, even in the rain,” Salant said.
Salant was one of an estimated 40,000 marchers, many of them wearing the blue and white colors of Israel’s flag. Several hundred thousands of people lined the parade route, according to the JCRC, the parade’s main sponsor, watching as floats, marching bands and banners wound their way up Fifth Avenue. Sixteen planes soared over the crowds to form a flyover salute.
Dignitaries marching in the parade included New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio; also in attendance were Israeli diplomats and Knesset members, including Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s newly named Israeli deputy foreign minister. City Comptroller Scott Stringer walked with his wife and their two young children.
Despite the overwhelming show of Jewish pride, as always the parade attracted its share of protestors. Several haredi Jews carried posters with anti-homosexual slogans, protesting the participation of several left-wing Jewish groups, including the New Israel Fund. Other protestors opposed the purchase of Israeli products made in West Bank settlements. With tight security measures in place along the parade route, none of the protests escalated.
Salant has seen it all before. “Every year I have marched, and every year there have been protestors standing on the sidelines challenging Israel’s right to exist, Israel’s right to defend itself and Israel’s right to exist as a democratic state. But they are still on the sidelines, and I’m still marching.”