It wasn’t only the weatherman who rained on the annual Salute To Israel parade on Sunday. At least a half-dozen insurance companies declined to cover the event, causing the organizers to scramble until almost the last minute to find a carrier.
In the end, though, neither rain nor wind nor skittish insurers prevented an estimated 100,000 marchers — many of them schoolchildren — from participating in the 39th annual event, the largest parade in support of Israel.
But it was touch and go until last Thursday when an 11th-hour deal was made, and not before the parade committee’s insurance costs increased to $212,000 from about $8,000.
An official of the sponsoring Israel Tribute Committee said more than $200,000 had to be raised in less than 24 hours.
“We were on the phone nonstop,” the official said.
The payment to American International Group insurance for $1 million in coverage was made possible with the help of UJA-Federation and donations from private individuals that were still being collected early this week.
The high premium was considered a consequence of the 9-11 terror attacks, which have driven up the costs of property and casualty liability coverage.
Although sporadic drizzling literally put a damper on this year’s march up Fifth Avenue from 57th to 79th streets, the turnout was moderate. Police did not provide an estimate of onlookers, but the crowd was thickest at the start and finish points, with several blocks in between sparse or virtually empty. By 2 p.m., about midway through the parade, the reviewing stand on 69th Street had many empty seats.
“It was not the weather we dream about, but in spite of that the turnout was beautiful,” said Judy Kaufthal, the ITC president.
Kaufthal and others noted that the parade provides numerous benefits in terms of a rallying point for Israel, a feel-good opportunity for supporters of Israel of all ages and from many religious and political viewpoints to come together for a common cause, not to mention extensive media coverage.
“The parade is a uniquely inclusive event,” said Uri Kaufthal, treasurer of the ITC (and Judy’s husband), noting that great strides have been made in the last five years to include more participation from non-Orthodox schools. In the past, the parade was perceived as overwhelmingly Orthodox in terms of the schools that took part. This year, he said, “more than 40 percent of the participating schools were non-Orthodox.”
Uri Kaufthal also stressed that while the parade is one day a year, the ITC’s work in Zionist education in many schools goes on year-round.
Organizers said the insurance cost would further complicate the task of funding the already costly event.
“A lot of planning goes into making this event the largest display of support for Israel in America,” Uri Kaufthal said. “People don’t realize that it is privately funded.”
The Israel Tribute Committee, which took over the parade in 1996 after the demise of the American Zionist Youth Foundation, was covered for last year’s parade by an existing policy with the Burlington Insurance Group.
Burlington was unwilling to offer coverage for Sunday’s march, but did insure the organization for its year-round operations, officials said.
That left parade organizers and supporters with several months to find a new carrier, which they were unable to do until four days before the event.
The $212,000 premium equals about a third of the committee’s annual operations budget.
Elected officials who marched included Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and numerous members of the City Council and state Legislature.
At 59th Street, pro- and anti-Israel demonstrators traded hostile barbs across Fifth Avenue. Critics compared Israel’s presence in Palestinian areas to the Nazi occupation of Europe. They were joined by members of Jews Against the Occupation and a group of Neturei Karta chasidim, who oppose Zionism.
An Israel supporter on the other side shouted, “Rachel Corrie got what she deserved,” referring to a pro-Palestinian American activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in March. Another man on the pro-Israel side held a sign with a graphic message for Yasir Arafat involving an improbable kiss.
For the most part, though, the parade was a peaceful and spirited show of support for Israel, which has suffered from Palestinian violence for the last 22 years. Marchers from a variety of schools were joined by high school marching bands and professionally designed floats sponsored by Jewish organizations and private companies.
A New York Times editor noted that “after last year’s fiasco,” in which a front-page photo gave more prominent attention to a small group of protesters than the tens of thousands of pro-Israel marchers, sparking widespread criticism, this year’s coverage was more representative of the turnout. There was one large photo in the Metro section Monday of young people marching and a small photo of the anti-Israel protesters, who numbered several hundred.
Elise Matis of Marine Park, Brooklyn, who watched the parade with two of her children, was pleased by the enthusiasm of the spectators.
“They weren’t going to let the weather dampen their spirit,” she said. “I was just glad it wasn’t a complete washout.”
Although she missed a glimpse of her seventh-grader son, Dani, marching with the Yeshivah of Flatbush, Matis said her other children loaded up with free samples dispensed from parade floats, like refrigerator magnets from the Israel Programs Center, pushkes from the Jewish National Fund and a Frisbee from a Jewish DJ service.
Matis said her children also came home with a valuable lesson that “we have to show we care about our brethren in Israel.”
Editor and publisher Gary Rosenblatt contributed to this report.