As organizers of the Salute to Israel Parade prepare for upwards of 100,000 marchers on May 5 — what would be the largest in its 38-year history — they are also assuring participants that extra security precautions will be taken.
“New York’s Finest have assured us that they are taking all necessary measures to ensure the safety of all participants,” said Ruth Kastner, executive director of the parade, who noted that state, federal and private security services would also be on hand.
Sherry Gutes, director of communications at the Suffolk Association for Jewish Educational Services (SAJES) and a teacher at the Huntington Jewish Center, said she has “heard serious questions and concerns [from parents] about security and we have explained the security guidelines. We also told them that the bus drivers are being paid to stay with the buses and that no one is allowed to come with bags or backpacks. People seem to be satisfied with that.”
Some suburban parents have expressed nervousness not just because the parade is in behalf of Israel at a time when the state is subjected to daily terrorist attacks, but also because it is being held in Midtown Manhattan — particularly since the September terrorist attack.
“A lot of families are very apprehensive about being at a large gathering in the city,” said Ricky Tadmor, religious school principal at the Dix Hills Jewish Center in Suffolk County.
Despite those concerns, nearly 150 groups have registered to march in the parade, Kastner said. In the past, about 110 groups signed up with about 65,000 marchers. With 150 groups, she said as many as 100,000 marchers are expected.
The theme of this year’s parade is: “Israel and America … Now and Forever … United We Stand.”
Judy Kaufthal, the parade’s president, said the event would give people a chance to show solidarity with both Israel and the United States. She noted that police officers and fire fighters would be marching in the parade and that “the emphasis will be on the heroes, linking America with Israel.”
They will march behind banners specially made this year. Not only will Jewish members of the police department’s Shomrim Society and the fire department’s Ne’er Tamid Society march, but members of the departments from other faiths have been invited as well, noted Kastner.
Israel’s deputy prime minister and housing minister, Natan Sharansky, is slated to lead the parade, which begins at 11 a.m. at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue and marches up Fifth Avenue to 79th Street.
“He is a symbol of a true hero,” Kaufthal said of Sharansky. “We are just thrilled he is going to be with us. … He is what heroism is all about.”
She noted that although UJA-Federation of New York has regularly marched in the parade, this is the first year there has been an outreach to Jewish federations nationwide inviting them to join the line of march. She noted that the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group of Jewish federations, had organized a major rally in the city in support of Israel last September but it was cancelled because of the terrorist attack here.
“Now people want to be a part of something to show how important Israel is to us,” said Kaufthal. “We are emphasizing that this is an event for youth and that educational aspects to it have been going on for months. But this is becoming much more of a national event this year. … We want Israelis to know we stand with them and that our hearts are with them.”
Unlike previous years, when the parade was generally restricted to children only, adults are being invited to contact groups in the parade and arrange to march with them.
“We realize the community needs to participate actively,” said Kastner.
But she stressed that the parade is an “educational event, not a rally. We’re accepting the same number of adults as children, but we don’t want to lose the focus of this being an educational project. The education happens within the youth programs of each participating organization and synagogue.”
She said that groups of adults who are not part of a participating group are invited to become “creative spectators.”
“We will assign them a spot, announce where they are and include them in the program,” Kastner said.
And to entertain children under 10, street performers from the Barnum & Bailey Circus will be on hand to lead spectators in singing, clapping and cheering. They will be entertaining with clowns, stilt walkers and balloon sculptures, according to Gloria Kaufman, the parade’s creative educational coordinator.
The Israeli colors of blue and white and the American colors of red, white and blue would be the predominant color schemes this year. And among the symbols in evidence will be the Magen David and the five-pointed American star.
“We want to convey the message of unity, partnership, friendship and togetherness,” said Kaufman.
Parade organizers expect a record 30 floats this year carrying such signs as, “Hands in Friendship,” “Two Nations, One Heart,” and “Together We Will Change the World.”
There will be at least two dozen schools marching for the first time this year. Deborah Friedman, executive director of SAJES, said six congregations in western Suffolk have decided to go as a delegation.
“There hasn’t been a delegation from the Suffolk community for several years,” she said. “We felt it is very important that we show our unity and support as a community for Israel. It’s most important that our children connect to Israel.”