NEW YORK — Tens of thousands marched in New York City’s Celebrate Israel parade on Sunday, in a significant and long-delayed affirmation for the area’s Jewish communities and Israel supporters.
Hundreds of groups representing a broad swath of American Jewry — from yeshiva students to bikers — marched and rode down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, along with top American and Israeli government officials.
The parade, billed as the largest expression of solidarity with Israel outside of its borders, is normally held annually but had not taken place in three years due to the pandemic. It is meant to be both a public show of support for Israel, including at the political level, and a chance for New York Jews to get together.
The march came during a fraught period. Since the last parade in 2019, antisemitism has surged in New York, the partisan climate has continued to stoke tensions between Jewish groups and fray political support for Israel, and sizable anti-Israel marches have taken place in the city. Yet the parade passed without incident, and a protest against the event was sparsely attended.
In light of the return of the event, the theme of this year’s parade was “Together again.” Ahead of the event, the organizers estimated 40,000 people would march from over 250 groups.
Thousands of students from Jewish schools in the New York region streamed through central Manhattan, waving Israeli and American flags, dancing and singing in Hebrew. Many of the students wore coordinated shirts with the parade’s slogan emblazoned on them in Hebrew and English. Some of the students chanted in Hebrew, “Israel is my home,” and “The people of Israel live.”
Other groups came from a range of Jewish organizations, from the pro-settlement Hebron Fund to the leftist LGBTQ organization Keshet. There were representatives of mainstream groups including Jewish medical organizations, the Israeli scouts, Yeshiva University, and Nefesh B’Nefesh.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul marched with an Israeli flag alongside New York State Attorney General Tish James and parade grandmaster Harley Lippman, an American entrepreneur who played a part in brokering the Abraham Accords. He said United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba was supposed to join the parade, but had to cancel after his country’s leader died earlier this month.
An Israeli delegation was led by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, and Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai. Labor MK Gilad Kariv, Yesh Atid’s Inbar Bezek, and Likud’s Ofir Akunis also marched, as did a group from Israel’s United Nations delegation, led by envoy Gilad Erdan. Ambassadors and diplomats from Australia, Bhutan, Nauru, Bulgaria, Guatemala, the Czech Republic, Latvia, and Brazil also joined.
Lippman told The Times of Israel that the Israeli delegation “shows the unity of the Diaspora, the Jewish community worldwide, and Israel. We are, as Jewish people, very connected to Israel.”
New York City Mayor Eric Adams marched next to Israel’s consul to New York Asaf Zamir and parade organizer Gideon Taylor of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. Former New York City mayors Bill de Blasio and Rudy Giuliani also joined the procession, as did congressional representatives Lee Zeldin, Jerrold Nadler and Ritchie Torres.
A heavy police presence secured the area around the parade, with manned barricades and police vehicles monitoring entries to the area starting a couple of blocks away.
A New York City Police Department marching band led the procession, which passed by thousands of spectators, many waving flags in front of the avenue’s flagship company stores, for several hours on Sunday afternoon. Many Israelis chatted in Hebrew on the sidelines and in the procession.
The rappers Nissim Black and Kosher Dillz performed over a beat sampling “Hava Nagila,” and some floats bounced to music by Israeli pop artists Omer Adam and Eden Ben Zaken.
Dr. Jonathan Gold marched with a group of descendants and family members of foreigners who fought in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. The group has marched in the parade every year since it first took place in 1965.
“I think it’s wonderful to show solidarity and it’s a challenging time for Israel. And it’s great for the youth,” Gold said.
Joseph Potasnik, the executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, said, “We walk on separate paths in our different houses of worship, but today we walk on one path together as one people. It’s a special moment for all of us.
“It’s nice to be a part of something where we can all be together. It’s important that we see each other face to face. Faith to faith, face to face,” he said.
The Westchester Torah Academy elementary school marched while beating drums the students designed and produced using 3D printers. The project was part of the school’s educational goal of focusing on practical uses for science, and a homage to Israel’s technological prowess, said David Merel, the director of operations and technology for the school.
“We thought it would be great to honor Israeli innovation by printing these out because Israel’s on the frontier of 3D printing,” he said.
“I think it’s great that we’re now back after two years. It’s beautiful to come back,” he said. “The kids are here, they’re pumped, they’re excited. You can’t ask for anything more.”
A handful of pro-Palestinian counter-protesters heckled the marchers from one spot on the sidelines, leading to some verbal standoffs over a police barricade. A few dozen members of the fringe anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox Neturei Karta group also protested.
The pro-Palestinian demonstrators chanted, “There is only one solution, intifada revolution,” “Go back to Europe,” and shouted “Shame,” as the governor passed by.
Not all Jewish groups were represented. There were relatively few ultra-Orthodox marchers; the city’s sizable Satmar community, one of the largest ultra-Orthodox groups in the region, is staunchly anti-Zionist.
Support for Israel is a politically divisive issue, including in New York. New York City congressional representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman co-sponsored a bill on Monday that would have the US formally recognize the Palestinian “Nakba,” endorsing the Palestinian view of Israel’s establishment. The participation of New York’s leadership in the parade indicated the Democratic party’s mainstream remains firmly supportive of Israel. Hochul and Adams both have strong ties to New York Jewish communities, and are consistently engaged with Jewish representatives.
The parade also represented a message to the city. Reported antisemitic incidents are at their highest level ever, according to the Anti-Defamation League, including physical assaults, racist graffiti and verbal abuse taking place regularly.
Since the last Israel parade in 2019, there have been massive pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protests in New York, mostly during and after last year’s Gaza war. Smaller rallies take place regularly, with demonstrators calling for a “global intifada” at central locations, including Fifth Avenue, often to the approval of passersby. Some of the protests have spilled into violence against Israel supporters, including last month, when pro-Palestinian activists beat a man holding an Israeli flag.
“During COVID, we lost the streets, to put it bluntly. We lost the streets and I think we need to be back on the streets because that’s a message, and that’s a sign of pride and engagement of who you are,” Taylor, the parade’s organizer, told The Times of Israel ahead of the event. “I think there is a feeling that this year is a time when we really have to come together and we have to send a very powerful visible message and that’s what this does.”
He said the Jewish Community Relations Council, which has managed the parade since 2011, had worked hard this year to broaden participation to a range of Jewish groups, after it had become increasingly Orthodox before the pandemic.
“It’s a message of pride — that we’re proud Jews and others who are friends of Israel. It’s a message that we’re not afraid, that after terrorism, after attacks in Brooklyn and hate crimes, we’re not afraid to come and march on the most iconic street in New York and to say we are here to celebrate Israel,” he said.