It rained on their parade — literally. But it didn’t dampen the spirits of the tens of thousands of people who lined Fifth Avenue Sunday at the Celebrate Israel Parade.
The parade, which has been a fixture in the city since 1965, is the largest celebration of Israel in the world. This year, more than 40,000 marchers from Jewish day schools, synagogues and social groups made their way uptown, joined by politicians including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Sen. Charles Schumer.
Most participants were clad in a variety of T-shirts, whose vibrant hues lent some color to the otherwise darkening skies and referenced this year’s theme, “Israel Imagines.”
Along the parade route, viewers in white, blue and IDF green joined marchers in chants such as “Am Yisrael Chai” as they watched floats and marching bands pass by. Spectators also sang along to tunes performed by iconic Israeli folk singer Naomi Shemer and modern reggae star Matisyahu.
In light of last summer’s Gaza war and the looming U.S. nuclear agreement with Iran, many found it particularly important to show public support for Israel at this year’s event.
“At first I didn’t really care about Israel,” admitted David Baturo, a sophomore at Yeshivat Derech Hatorah in Brooklyn. But, he added, the more he looked into how Israel is perceived on the world stage, the more upset he became. “I just feel like it’s important to show that … [Israel] is just as important as every other country that exists,” said the Baturo, who plans to study in Israel upon graduation.
Paul Werner, a state commander for the Jewish War Veterans Association, who came to the parade for the first time this year, said that with the recent uptick in anti-Israel sentiment, it is particularly important for Jews to go to the parade and show support for Israel.
“The current increase in the amount of anti-Semitism in this country, especially at the college and university levels, is exceedingly important,” he said.
Though the parade is mostly a joyous celebration of the Jewish state, it’s hard to keep politics at bay, given the divisions in the Jewish community.
“I think it’s good to celebrate our country and our people, but the parade makes me uncomfortable,” said Yotam Tubul, a recent Brown University graduate and dual Israeli-U.S. citizen who lives in Brooklyn. “I don’t love the idea of allying ourselves and unquestionably celebrating a country that I’m not always proud to be affiliated with.”
But plenty of Zionist pride was on display Sunday, rain or shine.
“I think that it’s important that we show that we support Israel even though we’re living in America,” said Sam Kramer of Woodmere, L.I., who has attended the event consistently for over 15 years. “It’s important to show that with everything going on, it’s still safe here to show our support for Israel.” Kramer marched alongside her three young children.
“I am here rain or shine at the parade,” added longtime attendee Marissa Feiwus, a recent graduate of the University of Arizona. “I love Israel; Israel is my second home.”
This year, in a first, the parade was followed by an Israeli culture festival on the far West Side, sponsored by the Israeli American Council (IAC). Organizers said 10,000 people, many of them Israeli-Americans, flocked to Pier 94 to hear popular Israeli pop singer Rita, take in a replica of the Tel Aviv Promenade and sample Israeli food and wine.
Yehudit Feinstein-Mentesh, IAC’s New York director, said that even with the rain, her compatriots made a surprisingly strong showing. “It was,” she said, “the first time Israeli-Americans [in New York] came out in such numbers — for anything.”
Staff writer Orli Santo contributed to this report.