Last yearís Salute to Israel Parade sparked a furor when The New York Times ran a photograph of an anti-Israel placard amid the thousands of Israel supporters ó a posed shot for which the Times later clarified as a mischaracterization of the rally.
For this yearís salute, starting at 11 a.m. Sunday, the parade committee is trying to ensure the focus stays on Israel support rather than a pocket of protesters.
Some 10,000 pro-Israel placards will be distributed along the route ó that means 450 placards per block ó to Jewish groups coming as ìregistered spectators,î according to Ruth Kastner, the paradeís executive director. These spectators will be assigned positions.
Kastner, who did not directly address last yearís controversy, said the signs would convey a message of optimism and hope, ìcelebrating Israelís spirit, and the existence of Israel,î with slogans such as ìIsrael is in our heartsî or ìPray for peace.î
Of the Times photo, Judy Kaufthal, president of the parade committee, said: ìI can hope and assume theyíll learn from their mistakes.î
At a time when public rallies for Israel have been infrequent, even as the conflict with the Palestinians continues to extract an emotional toll, the salute expects to deliver perhaps hundreds of thousands of Israel supporters into the streets ó let alone positive Zionist images to the television news programs and morning papers.
The 39th annual salute, the third to be held during 33 months of war, is said to be the single largest gathering ever in support of the Jewish state.
Some 320 marching groups, up from 192 just a year ago, will make their way up Fifth Avenue from 57th to 79th Street. Kastner expects ìmore than 100,000 marchers and a million spectators.î Organizers said 800,000 people watched last yearís festivities.
Interspersed with the marching groups will be 32 professionally designed floats, musical entertainment and a dozen football-style marching bands.
The elongated parade roster is expected to swell the running time into the early evening.
Along with balloons arching over the route, and the oohs and aahs over the props, dancers and the spectacle of it all, the parade committee anticipates that the placard-waving spectators will become part of the action, as well.
ìItís important to us that Israel know how much we stand behind them and appreciate what theyíre going through,î said Kaufthal.
The organizers plan to release a flock of doves into the sky near the reviewing stand.
Among the parade sponsors are the Consulate General of Israel, the Development Corporation for Israel/Israel Bonds, Hadassah and UJA Federation of New York.
The bulk of the marching groups will come, as in years past, from Jewish schools, but some of the more exotic marchers, such as American Indians for Israel, the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club and Israelís Olympic ice-skating team, will likely stir reaction from the sidewalks.
Among the dozen marching bands will be perennial favorites such as the New York City Police Marching Band, the Emerald Society Pipe & Drum Band of New York, the Spirit of Newark Drum & Bugle Corp and the Original Hobo Band from New Jersey, if not parts unknown.
Perhaps the most emotional moment for many spectators will be the sight of ìSkaters & Bladers for J.J. Greenberg,î the highly respected Jewish professional who was killed in a traffic accident in Israel last September at the age of 36.
Greenberg was a burst of exuberance on parade days, Rollerblading along the route. His mother, Blu Greenberg, remembered that he first marched with the SAR Academy of Riverdale in elementary school and probably never missed a parade afterward.
ìIt was fun to be there with J.J.,î said Blu, ìbecause he knew everybody, every second person it seemed. It was like old home week for him. At the parade everything about J.J. came together: Israel, friendship and family; all the movement and the joy. Not only did he love to go but he tried to get everyone else to go. He believed a good turnout was important.î
J.J.ís friend, Nechama Abramoff, organized more than 50 of J.J.ís friends and family into a coordinated Rollerblading celebration for the parade. Kaufthal, whose Israel Tribute Committee oversees the parade, said the tribute is ìa labor of love.î
ìIt brings tears to my eyes,î she said. ìJ.J. held a very special spot in a lot of our hearts. I can still see him at the parade, Rollerblading backwards, tzitzis flying, his fishermanís cap on backwards. Weíll try to duplicate his spirit.î
One annual sidelight of the parade, the Israel Day Concert in Central Park, will return for its 10th year of religious music and right-wing speeches from 3 to 6 p.m. in the East Meadow, near the 97th Street entrance to the park.
ìThe issues of the day will be addressed.î promised Dr. Joseph Frager, the concertís organizer.
Performers such as Yossi Piamenta, Avrum Rosenblum of the Diaspora band and Yehuda! accompanied by the Neginah Orchestra, will be featured.
The event, sponsored by the National Council of Young Israel, is unaffiliated with the parade itself.
ìPeople donít necessarily come out to a rally,î said Frager, ìbut if you hold a concert, that gets a crowd.î Frager is expecting a crowd of 25,000.
ìIf Israel knows weíre doing something here,î he said, ìthat gives chizuk [fortitude and strength] to them.î n