While controversy over participation in the June 1 Celebrate Israel parade continues to heat up, another major program to mark Israel’s 66th birthday in Manhattan happily appears to be a paradigm of unity.
Following up on last year’s inaugural success, 35 synagogues, schools and Jewish organizations are sponsoring a variety of events on the Upper West Side this Sunday, May 4 through Tuesday, May 6, culminating with a party by the shore of the Hudson River from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday at the West 79th Street Boat Basin Café at Riverside Park.
Tuesday is Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, and the idea is to transform the Hudson Shore into a kind of Tel Aviv Tayelet, or promenade, where Israelis come to celebrate Shabbat, festivals and other happy occasions.
In all, more than 30 programs are planned, and include song, dance and storytelling for children, an indoor cycling ride, films, lectures, a culinary demonstration, a street fair and a scavenger hunt. They are being convened by the JCC in Manhattan in collaboration with and funded by UJA-Federation of New York.
The Sunday and Monday events are free and open to the public, though pre-registration is strongly encouraged (www.uwsisrael.org for registration and details on programs).
Rabbi Ayelet Cohen, the lead programmer at the JCC in Manhattan for this event, said she has been “inspired” by the level of cooperation among the synagogues (of every denomination) and other groups, who have been working on this project for months.
“The people involved are coming to this with great openness and a great sense of community participation,” she said, adding that the projects “explore different aspects of Israel intellectually, spiritually and pure fun.”
Rabbi Cohen said the concept for the event came from Rabbi Rolando Matalon of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, who grew up in Argentina, where the Jewish community marked Yom Ha’Atzmaut as a major holiday.
UJA-Federation here offered $150,000 in grants to the participating groups, encouraging them to “dream big,” Rabbi Cohen said. She noted that “too often in Jewish institutions we have to do the opposite,” cutting back on plans to stay within budget.
“The idea was to come up with projects they couldn’t do on their own,” without the additional financing or manpower provided, she said.
While the planners envision expanding the Israeli Independence Day celebration someday into a citywide event, the Upper West Side was chosen because of its Jewish demographic density, including synagogues, day schools and other institutions based there.
The biggest challenge, Rabbi Cohen said, was in “dealing with so many partners and wanting everyone to feel invested. These were very different populations with very different relations to Israel.”
She said she realized how few opportunities there are for the whole Jewish community to come together in celebration. (The popular street celebrations on the Upper West Side on the evening of Simchat Torah ended after 9/11 due in part to security concerns.)
More than 5,000 people took part in last year’s celebration. Rabbi Cohen noted that with more groups participating, and if the weather holds up, she is hopeful the numbers could increase this year.