NEW YORK — Tens of thousands of Israel supporters clad in blue and white and waving Israeli flags marched up Fifth Avenue on Sunday for the annual Celebrate Israel parade, this year marked as a gala event to honor the Jewish state’s 70th birthday.
The march was led by New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Israel’s Consul General in the city Dani Dayan and Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon.
A number of top Israeli lawmakers also attended Sunday’s march, including Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, Minister of Immigration and Absorption Sofa Landver, and Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis.
But it was the 40,000 marchers and masses of spectators who were the main focus.
Dressed in blue and white, Freida stood at the corner of 57th street and Fifth Avenue on Sunday with two of her young daughters and her husband. They had come early enough to get a front row spot to watch their other daughter and son march with their schools at the annual Celebrate Israel parade on Fifth Avenue.
“We are here to support Israel. We think it’s really important for everyone to show their support and celebrate,” she said. “We come every year, rain or shine.”
Like Freida and her family, thousands of people gathered along a stretch of 17 blocks on Fifth Avenue on Sunday to watch the 54th annual Celebrate Israel parade, waving blue and white flags to the sound of Hebrew music.
On the other side of the metal barriers, close to 40,000 marchers representing different American Jewish organizations strolled along the route with large shiny floats, customized t-shirts, signs, and big smiles on their faces.
“Seventy years of great achievements,” one hand held banner said.
Among those taking part in the parade were many children. Some waved flags, others sang the latest Israeli hits. Young girls from the JCC Dance Company performed a choreography to a remix of the song “Hallelujah,” which won the Eurovision for Israel in 1979. Colorful ribbons were hanging out of their pockets, flying to the rhythm of their moves.
“70 years is a great celebration, and we stand with Israel whether we agree with its policies or not,” one marcher with the group Young Judaea told The Times of Israel, holding a large flag. “We love it, and we’ll stand by it forever.”
The tradition began in 1965, when an impromptu march was organized up the avenue in support of the State of Israel, then only 17 years old.
In a tweet, Consul General Dayan thanked the New York officials and the “tens of thousands of Israel supporters who marched alongside us on Fifth Avenue! It’s been exciting!”
Ahead of the event, Regev hailed the annual march as a celebration of the close relationship between the US and Israel. She said that together the two countries were marking “70 years of vision and fulfillment.”
Every year, the Israel-centric event is highly secured, but this year, in light of recent tensions between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, the New York Police Department announced reinforced measures with some 1,000 officers working the event, including members of the force’s counterterrorism unit.
In addition, to prevent car-ramming incidents, authorities added 70 blocker vehicles, including trucks loaded with sand stationed at intersections along the parade route.
“We feel very safe marching in the parade,” said Ronen Schwartzman, there with his two children as part of the Israeli American Council. “We trust NYPD and all the other security services to do their job.”
“This is the largest parade outside of Israel supporting the country and we feel it is important for us to be there,” Schwartzman continued.
“I know we have snipers around here watching over us. We have a lot of armed guards and security and cops,” added Rudy Avis, marching while holding a giant American flag. “I feel very safe.”
After the parade, thousands gathered under tight security in Times Square to continue the celebrations. Police ringed the iconic square and sand trucks blocked nearby streets.
The event was organized by the Consulate of Israel in New York in collaboration with the Culture and Sport Ministry to highlight the achievements of the state of Israel at 70 years of age.
Dozens of the iconic screens overlooking the Square were rented out for the occasion and made up a large video display with images from Israel, as well as a clip for Israel’s winning Eurovision song “Toy.”
“Look at this! We have taken over Times Square!” Minister Miri Regev said, watching the crowd dance.
On stage, Israeli singer Shiri Maimon, who will soon be performing in the musical “Chicago” on Broadway, performed during the event, which lasted several hours on Sunday night.
Earlier this month, Israeli television reported that diplomats and staffers at Israel’s New York consulate had been warned against attending the Times Square celebration, over fears they could be attacked. However, Regev pushed for them to participate in any case.
“Times Square is one of the premiere locations in the world; it is the liveliest, most innovative, and most appropriate place to highlight Israel’s breakthrough innovations in every sphere of life,” Regev had said in a statement announcing the event.
Consul General Dani Dayan had added that the event is “historic” and “the first of its kind which will present Israel in its glory at the crossroads of the world.”