For the 33 United Synagogue Youth teenagers and their parents from Providence, R.I., Sunday’s Celebrate Israel Parade was nothing short of a “Jewish identity trip.”
“We came to show the kids there are more Jews out there who support Israel — lots more Jews,” said parent Miriam Stark, who noted that the Jewish population of greater Providence is only 14,000.
As they stood along Fifth Avenue at 58th Street cheering the bands and costumed marchers, Stark pointed out that their delegation was there at the teens’ urging.
“The last time we did this was in 2007, and the kids said we had to do it again because it was the best thing they did all year,” she said.
Daniella Levine, 17, of Providence said the parade gave her a chance to “show my love and affection for Israel without being there. It’s exciting being down here.”
Moments later, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo marched by amid the more than 160 delegations of synagogues, Jewish organizations and community groups that included more than 30,000 marchers and 40 bands and floats from throughout the New York area. The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York sponsored the event.
Cuomo was among scores of politicians on hand for the annual event, including New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. Notable in his absence was embattled Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner of Brooklyn and Queens who is usually a fixture at the parade. But after spending two days last week trying to explain how a suggestive photo of a man’s crotch was sent from his Twitter account to a 21-year-old coed in Seattle, Weiner dropped out of sight Friday.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg led the five-hour parade from 57th to 74th streets, which for the first time since it began in 1964 was televised live. Also at the head of the parade were Israel’s consul general in New York, Ido Aharoni, and Israel’s minister of information and diaspora, Yuli Edelstein.
“I think all of those talking about Israel being isolated and alone should see pictures of the center of New York today,” Edelstein said. “People in Israel can’t even imagine this.”
As the parade kicked off promptly at 11 a.m. and two fire trucks passed by, filled with scores of youngsters riding in the rear, Hillary Miller, 13, of Milwaukee, Wis., stood at the barricade near 57th Street wearing a big smile. She and her family happened to be in the city and came by to watch the parade.
“In Milwaukee we have a walk for Israel every spring,” she said. “But this is much bigger. My friend and I just got involved with BBYO [B’nai B’rith Youth Organization]. We see so many Jewish teens here, we’re looking forward to connecting with them.”
For Sonja Nadritch, the parade represented a personal milestone — it was the first time one of her five grandchildren was marching.
“My son Brett march in the parade with the Jewish Foundation School of Staten Island when he was a child and now his son Mickey is marching with the Yavneh Academy of Paramus, N.J.,” she said. “It’s the ultimate parade — to have children and grandchildren with the same values and love for Israel. It’s the ultimate nachas.”
The parade was also a first for Phoebe Brenner, 6, who marched along with her family and fellow congregants from Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook, L.I.
“It was the first time we marched as a whole family,” said Phoebe’s mom, Melissa, who also has two other children. “It felt very exciting to see so many spectators who came to support Israel. We’re happy to be a part of it. It’s important for our children to identify with Israel. As soon as they got off the bus, they couldn’t believe how many other Jewish people were here.”
It was also a first for Wesley Gill, 11, of Livingston, N.J., who marched with Boy Scout Troop 118.
“It took an hour to walk [the parade route] but it felt like 20 minutes,” he said. “I guess it’s because I was paying attention to everything and everybody.”
John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, said that he was particularly pleased that the parade was open to Jewish groups with a variety of political opinions.
“We hold different views on how to best secure Israel’s future, but on this one day we all come together to stand with the people of Israel as they reject violence and pursue peace,” he said.
Among the different groups on parade were about 75 people who marched as a cluster of liberal groups, including the New Israel Fund, Rabbis for Human Rights and Americans for Peace Now.
Ruth Koesterich, 73, of Fort Lee, N.J., watched the parade from the sidelines as she said she has done for many years.
“I’m here to show allegiance to Israel,” she said. “We’re here for her and pray for her. Unfortunately, politics dictate that she is not at rest and is constantly on guard, constantly sacrificing her youth to protect and defend her.”
Another spectator, Zippi Cramer, 51, an Israeli who has lived here for 29 years, said it was the first time she has attended the parade.
“Every year I kept saying I have to go and something always came up,” said Cramer, who wore a Tel Aviv University sweatshirt.
As she waved a small Israeli flag, Cramer confided that she found being there “very emotional.”
The parade was stopped for about 15 minutes shortly before 2 p.m. when a suspicious package was spotted near 60th Street. After a police investigation the parade resumed. A similar incident delayed the start of last year’s parade.
After marching with a delegation from Hadassah, Morton Laurence, 82, of Melville, L.I., said it was the fourth time he has marched in the parade and that he was glad he went.
“There was such excitement and a lot of young children,” he said. “That’s good to see. And it was good to see the tons of people who came to see the parade. I was gratified by the turnout.”