Strange, how so many Israelites could witness the miracles of the Exodus and yet have been disillusioned enough to want to return to Egypt. How could they not have been in a constant state of joy and optimism, realizing their place in sacred history?
Similarly, ours is a generation that has witnessed the rebirth of the Jewish state, a literally death-defying revival of Ezekiel’s Dry Bones, not just in 1948 but again in 1967, if not again daily. Nevertheless, all too often we are like that generation of the desert, rather than letting our Zionism be exemplified by joy, confidence and optimism.
Since its first march up Riverside Drive in 1964, and again on June 2, the Celebrate Israel Parade (formerly the Salute to Israel parade) has exemplified exactly that: loving and celebrating Israel with a joyous confidence as exuberant as the brilliantly colored balloons, music and artwork that have been synonymous with the parade.
Just as Israel itself is held to impossible standards, there are those on the far right and far left who challenge this parade with a critique all but impossible to satisfy. Is Israel not holy enough? Are the celebrities and entertainment not edgy or indie enough? In small-town America, where the Fourth of July parade is little more than a fire truck and the high school band, the sidewalks are packed with happy folks cheering on the fire truck, the high school students and the flag — because that’s what these parades are really about. Not just a celebration of our country but the celebration of us, our schoolkids, parents and civic leaders. At this parade we not only cheer for Israel but for our alma maters or leathery bikers or Yosef Mendelevich, the old “prisoner of Zion” from out of the gulag.
It will be a day for celebrating Israel elsewhere in the city, as well. The National Council of Young Israel is sponsoring a concert with numerous performers at the Central Park Bandshell (and with three political themes: “Israel and Jerusalem: Ours, united, forever, never to be divided again”; “No further concessions of any part of the Land of Israel” and “Stopping Iran NOW!”:) from 2:30-7:30 p.m. For the first time in 35 years, Israel’s national soccer team will be in New York, kicking off at 5:30 p.m. against Honduras at Citi Field.
This parade, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and from 57th Street to 74th Street on Fifth Avenue, is always one of the most beautiful days in the New York Jewish year. We celebrate not only Israel but also the organizers and the marchers who, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said about another march, are praying with their feet.