Published by: New York Jewish Week

May 20, 2014 12:00 am

What if I told you that one of the biggest events of the year for the State of Israel takes place not in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv but right here in New York City? And that despite being thousands of miles away, every Israeli feels an immense sense of pride knowing that hundreds of thousands of people demonstrate their support of Israel each and every year when it takes place. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking about the Celebrate Israel parade, which marks its golden jubilee on June 1.

I will never forget the first time I marched in the parade. I was joined by my family, with my 4-year-old son on my shoulders. Now, at age 16, my son will march with me again, as we continue not only a family tradition, but also one that is entrenched in the New York and Jewish communities. To us, this is not just the biggest celebration of Israel in the world; it is the biggest display of love and support from Israel’s best friend and ally. 

When the street sweepers finish cleaning up Fifth Avenue, when the last of the flags and balloons are long gone, the Celebrate Israel parade continues to splash the headlines and social media feeds among Israelis. The sense of appreciation that we, the Israeli people, feel back home by this incredible showing is almost impossible to put into words.

That’s because the Celebrate Israel parade is truly a tradition unlike any other.

This year’s parade theme is “50 Reasons to Celebrate Israel.” Fifty ways to celebrate the Jewish state, 50 ways to celebrate the start-up nation, 50 ways to celebrate Israel’s creative spirit and unique energy. From the elaborate floats and music, to the flags and cheers coming from the crowd, it’s always a thrill to see the many different ways people choose to celebrate this small but remarkable country of ours. And once a year, we have the privilege of coming together as one big family for this wonderful celebration.

This year we are also marking Israel’s 66th anniversary of independence. The incredible miracle that marked the rebirth of the State of Israel in 1948 would have never been possible without the support of our American allies, along with spirit and resiliency of the Jewish people and the American Jewish community.

We show our immense pride for, among other achievements, Israel’s desire and continuous efforts to improve the livelihoods of global citizenry. When we celebrate Israeli inventions, innovations and its decades of humanitarian aid, we are celebrating the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, repairing the world. At the end of the 1950s, when Israel was less than a decade old, the government launched Mashav, Israel’s Center for International Cooperation. Mashav has helped millions across the developing world, from promoting education and women empowerment in sub-Saharan Africa to disaster relief in the Philippines. Even as the future of our young Jewish state was unsure, we continued to dedicate resources to building a better tomorrow for everyone.

We have always marched together.

The parade is an opportunity to celebrate not just the outstanding partnership between America and Israel, but the strength and solidarity within our own Jewish community. We come from all five boroughs, from New Jersey, Long Island, Westchester, Rockland, Connecticut and beyond. We have different political views and different stances on social issues, and believe in different levels of faith and observance. But on this day, we come together for the same cause: to celebrate Israel’s spirit while upholding a tradition of unity and active support for the Jewish state. 

Last year alone, there were over 200 marching groups and dozens of floats and marching bands. They marched under the banners of synagogues, nonprofits and university campuses from across the country. But on those different banners, there was always one common theme — blue and white. No matter our different backgrounds, what we all have in common is that we march together, in love of Israel.

The Celebrate Israel Parade is not just a day for Israel, but also one for the entire Jewish community. The principles that make Israel such an inspiring nation are rooted in Jewish teachings and traditions, which we all share together.

On June 1, we will proudly display and celebrate 66 years of the State of Israel, and half a century of this incredible parade. The Jewish community as a whole celebrates not only Israel’s accomplishments, but also our bright future together.

We will always march together.