In the shade of the gray Fifth Avenue awnings between 77th and 78th streets, the spectators were a spectacle all their own, a cross-section of age and politics cheering the Israel of their dreams and the romances of their youth.
On this one block were newborns in strollers and an old woman who sat motionless and voiceless in a wheelchair, a blanket covering her legs despite the midday heat. A few steps away, businessman Izzy Mintz was wearing a T-shirt with the logo of the Lobos, his softball team representing the Greentree Acres bungalow colony in the Catskills summer league. It will soon be that time again. Mintz was here today as a father watching his kids, but ìIíve been coming since I was a teenager.
Then he came on his own because his non-Zionist yeshiva didn’t march. Nearby a chasid under his black suit was wearing an orange shirt, symbol of opposition to the Gaza withdrawal. The Chasid’s school wasn’t marching, which would have been at least a way to blow a kiss to Israel while protesting its policies.
Mintz said he wouldn’t wear orange, the Ukraine-inspired color adopted by Gaza settlers set for eviction. I have an opinion, but I’m not living there, he said. My kids aren’t risking their lives in the army. A horse and buggy went by, down the center of Fifth Avenue, carrying a couple that met and married after last year’s parade. Let others think Israel is only about Oslo or Gaza. For those who went to Israel on college programs, Israel is every bit as much a place of young love ó loving not just the land but each other.
A middle-aged fellow on that same sidewalk, a veteran of marriage who therefore asked for anonymity in the presence of his memories, thought he saw a familiar woman in the crowd on the other side of the avenue. She was young back in ’72 when they shared tea in a Tel Aviv cafe on a long-ago midnight before walking along the Yarkon River on the way to the youth hostel on Bnei Dan Street. He couldn’t figure out whose future was less discernible – his own or Israel’s ó from the vantage point of that Tel Aviv tea room 33 years ago.
After all these years, the Salute to Israel can seem like a Nashville romance ó ìso much is wrong but it feels so right.
Yes, the old criticisms are still valid. Unlike the sensuous, adult carnivals of the West Indian parade and New Yorkís other ethnic extravaganzas with their red hot mamas, ours was like a pre-teen ìMommy and Me,î with adults reduced to parents and children reduced to props. And yet, it felt so right: Jews in sunlight; pretty girls flirting with yeshiva hipsters at the starting gate of summer; babies on shoulders; oom-pah brass bands playing Sousa rather than the usual Jewish dirges; walkers in the city running over to the barricades to air-kiss friends unseen for too long.
Under the awning of 953 Fifth, young Orthodox mothers in long denim skirts, their ankles still pale from winter, were speaking in the clipped cadences of moms who value practicality above all else. A clown on stilts entertained their babies. Into the air he juggled three bowling pins and caught two.
Eli Slomnicki didnít wear orange, but slyly tied an orange ribbon around the handle of his babyís stroller. He said he came because ìitís important to support Israel.î Again and again, people on this block spoke of how ìimportantî this parade was, as if even a parade was an opportunity to scold and shvitz about the unbearable heaviness of our being.As a Ministry of Tourism float rolled up Fifth, it was easy to forget the rockets regularly falling in Sderot, a place where tourists dare not go. On this very same Sunday, there were ìviolent clashesî on the Temple Mount where Palestinians were throwing stones at Jews, and Sunday newspapers in Israel warning that terrorism and death will return in the fall.Reb Nachman used to suggest that in troubled times one should return to a childlike faith, not unlike what was parading before us. It was a great privilege to be childlike at this parade, with summer coming and terror closing in.