The Salute to Israel Parade

, June 1, 2008

No. 33,

  • The Salute to Israel Parade officially began in 1965. Several thousand people participated. A wide range of Jewish participants attended the first parade. Also invited were various representatives of non-Jewish communities.
  • Nowadays the parade draws over one hundred thousand marchers, with an additional million supporters watching from the sidelines. Parade organizers use outreach methods, in addition to the publicity the parade receives, to ensure that all sectors of the Jewish community are represented.
  • The presence of politicians has significantly increased since the parade’s founding, when only the Israeli ambassador and a few American politicians appeared. Elected officials, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have appeared at the parade, including governors of New York, mayors and former mayors of New York City, senators, and congressmen. Israeli dignitaries attend as well.
  • The parade is a barometer for the community and its trends. The attendance of the parade also suggests American Jews’ sense of comfort and security in the United States. The participants, the themes that are chosen, and the dynamics of the parade itself reflect how American Jews relate to Israel and to themselves.

1. History of the Parade

The Salute to Israel Parade, originally named the Youth Salute to Israel Parade, was developed in 1964 by a team of American and Israeli Jews. At the forefront of this project were Haim Zohar, Charles Bick, and Ted Comet, who collaborated with Dr. Alvin Schiff and Dr. Dan Ronen to create this demonstration of American Jewish solidarity with Israel. These individuals had all been working separately on projects to infuse Israeli and Jewish culture into the communal life of American Jewry. Several of them had also been looking for a context in which to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day among American Jews.[1]

The Parade Is Born

In 1964, Haim Zohar was working at the Israeli consulate in New York. Born in Poland, Zohar moved to the prestate Yishuv at the age of 10. Sent to New York as a liaison to the American Jewish community, he had developed ties with the various sectors of American Jewry.

Zohar tried to bring the American Jewish community closer to Israel. He showed them what Israel had to offer in terms of literature, culture, history, and the Hebrew language. He wanted to convey that every Jew could experience Israel whether in a professional, academic, or tourism context. He worked in schools, youth movements, and adult community organizations.

Then as now, Jews constituted a large percentage of the New York population. They were active in many contexts in the city, in addition to building their own distinctive community. Yet, unlike other ethnic groups such as the Irish, Italians, Germans, Poles, and Puerto Ricans, the Jews did not assemble for public displays of ethnic pride. Working on the East Side, Zohar would often see other ethnic-pride parades and wondered why the Jews did not follow suit. A parade seemed to be a way not only to unite American Jews but also to bring Israel into their lives and let them show support for it. Zohar believed such events would strengthen Jewish identity and create solidarity among klal Yisrael (the nation of Israel). As an Israeli, he also sought to strengthen bonds between Israel and the United States as a whole.

Backing for the parade was initially difficult to attain. Zohar contacted the Israeli foreign minister, the Zionist organizations in America, and other Jewish organizations. He encountered skepticism and the general response that he should not bother because it would not succeed. But Abe Harman, then Israeli ambassador to the United States, encouraged Zohar to continue. As a foreign agent, he knew that he needed American leaders to officially organize the parade. He successfully approached the American Zionist Youth Foundation headed by Chairman Charles Bick and Director Ted Comet.[2]

The Deep Value of the Parade

Comet was very receptive upon hearing the idea. A parade would be the sort of event he had been looking for to influence the larger spectrum of American Jewry. He had attempted to instill Zionist ideology among the youth movements and enhance Jewish identity among the general Jewish population. Previously there had been no pattern of large solidarity demonstrations for Israel. The parade, he thought, could be an ideal opportunity for this.

Comet also thought the parade would enable American Jews to publicly express their Jewishness. Similar to the lack of pro-Israeli rallies, there was a shortage of public Jewish activities at that time. Indeed, many Jewish organizations initially objected to the parade because they were apprehensive of demonstrating their Jewishness in the streets. Many American Jews were plagued by fears of dual-loyalty accusations. Comet, however, viewed public Jewish expression positively and thought working together on the parade could unite the large, fragmented New York Jewish community.

The parade also had educational value. Originally it was to be directed at youth and called the Youth Salute to Israel Parade. From the parade’s beginnings, an annual theme was incorporated that schools and youth movements were encouraged to use when designing their floats and costumes. Thus, involvement in the parade could provide Jewish youth with greater connection to Israel and knowledge of its culture and history.

The yearly theme also served to educate the non-Jewish public. Before the founding of the parade, the greater American public associated Israel with battles and conflict. The original parade organizers wanted to use these themes to focus on the Jewish values and ideals on whose basis Israel was established. Non-Jews would thus see a dimension of Israel that was not portrayed in the news or in their history textbooks.[3]

Initial Problems

After receiving support from Comet and Bick, Zohar began to assemble a team to implement their vision. Comet was appointed chairman of the parade and Dan Ronen was named its director. Ronen was then a representative of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) from Israel, who had come to promote JNF’s activities throughout the country. Dr. Alvin Schiff, then director of the Day School Department of the Board of Jewish Education in New York, also worked with the group by encouraging schools to participate.

Recruiting participants for the parade was sometimes a trying task. The youth movements and schools all responded positively to the idea, and Schiff played an important part here because of his connections through the Board of Jewish Education.[4] Ronen also had contacts via the JNF.[5]  Additionally, Zohar’s role as liaison to the Jewish communities at the Israeli consulate allowed him to persuade people to join. He also worked to get additional funding for the parade both from private donors and Jewish organizations.[6]

Among the adult communities, however, there was hesitation about the idea. People thought it did not fit the New York Jewish intellectual tradition, or that a parade was not a “Jewish” activity. Others were still reluctant about showing their Jewishness publicly. Hence it was difficult to obtain initial funding.[7]

Some Orthodox Jews also saw the parade as problematic. Certain Orthodox groups objected to boys and girls marching together, or to the participation of non-Jewish marching bands with members wearing crosses on their uniforms. Choosing a day for the parade was also an issue.[8] A major aim was for the day to occur during the same time span as Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. It was also important for it to fall on a Sunday so as to obtain permission from the City of New York to march on Fifth Avenue. Yom Haatzmaut, however, falls during a period known as sfirah on the Jewish calendar, a time of mourning when it is customary to avoid major celebrations. There are certain days when celebrations are allowed, but they would not usually coincide with Sunday.

Comet and Bick, however, were able to get permission from rabbis to have the parade during this period, as well as solutions to the other problems.

The Shaping of the Parade

Deciding on the format of the parade also took time. Some suggested a rally, whereas Ronen proposed a folkdance procession similar to those that occurred in Haifa on the original Yom Haatzmaut. As the former assistant to the minister of education and culture serving on the International Board of Directors of the Festivals of Folklore, Ronen had seen many parades and had organized two of them in 1958 and 1959. Ronen was inspired by these Israeli folkdance parades where participants would dance down the streets, followed by more elaborate two- to three-minute performances.

Other inspirations included the Ad Lo Yada parade on the Purim holiday in Israel and other parades by Israeli youth movements. Israel had always used festivals and parades to express its cultural and national identity. These took motifs from Jewish religious holidays and shaped them into national affirmations.

Ronen and the American Jews with whom he collaborated amplified this concept when designing the parade. American Jews perceived themselves and had been viewed as a religious group. The parade helped them see and present themselves also as part of a larger nation. In other words, it helped American Jews transform a religious culture into a national one, a complex task with which even Israel was having difficulty.

To present Israel’s national culture, Israeli folkdancers and singers were brought for the parade. National, cultural, and religious symbols were interwoven to show different dimensions of the country. The Israeli embassy supplied pictures and arts-and-crafts models of Israel. In this way the parade offered a focus of national pride for all Jews. Most of the marchers belonged to religious denominations, and they worked together to merge their religious and national identities. This helped attract people from across the religious and cultural spectrum to the parade.[9]

The First Parade

The first mini-parade took place in 1964 when Zohar marched with the Manhattan Day School and their principal from the school to a theater on Broadway holding the Israeli flag. Smaller parades that year featured schools in Queens. The Salute to Israel Parade officially began in 1965.[10]

Deciding its route was another issue that resulted in compromise between the parade officials and the Israeli consulate. In keeping with the standard set by the other ethnic groups, the parade committee wanted everyone to march down Fifth Avenue. However, the consulate was not sure that there would be a large-enough turnout to cover the entire route, and that a low turnout would be a greater loss than gain. The final route that was chosen stretched from 72nd Street and First Avenue to 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue, with the parade then turning onto Fifth Avenue and continuing until 59th Street.[11]

On 2 May 1965, Zohar awoke to see gray skies and rain clouds. He feared that all the hard work would go to waste. Around 10 a.m., however, the sun came out. The weather was excellent the rest of the day, and the parade occurred as planned.[12]

A wide range of Jewish participants, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform as well as the youth movements, attended the first parade. Also invited were representatives of the Irish and Italian communities of the New York City public schools that had large Jewish populations. Catholic bands, as well as bands from the police and the firefighters, marched alongside the Jewish youth. All told, several thousand people participated and crowds covered the sidewalk for the entire route of the parade.

At 59th Street the marchers and the bystanders all gathered into Central Park for a pro-Israeli rally. It was designed to have both an Israeli and an American flavor and featured many prominent figures including Fiddler on the Roof star Zero Mostel, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s daughter, and the head of the New York Police Department (who was Jewish). Mayor Robert Ferdinand Wagner of New York of New York spoke and was followed by both American and Israeli folkdancers, singers, and an orchestral performance. Everyone viewed the parade as a huge success, so much so that it moved entirely to Fifth Avenue the following year.[13]

2. The Parade Today

Dynamics of the Parade

Since its initiation in 1965, the Salute to Israel Parade has undergone many changes. Nowadays it draws over one 100,000 marchers, with an additional million supporters watching from the sidelines. Beginning at 12:00 noon and lasting until 4:30 p.m., the participants proceed along Fifth Avenue from 57th Street to 79th Street. The parade is always colorful and festive with numerous floats, children holding banners, and marching bands. Prizes are awarded for the best floats, clowns entertain the spectators, and Israeli folkdancers create a unique atmosphere.[14]

Every year the parade coordinators choose a specific theme expressing the American Jewish connection to Israel. Examples include “We Are All One People” in 1999 and “Saluting Israel, Celebrating America…Two Golden Lands” in 2005, honoring the 350th anniversary of Jewish life in America. The themes offer an educational opportunity for the marchers to explore their relationship to Israel. Each group of marchers selects a topic within the theme and develops this topic into a colorful presentation. This also gives each community more individuality in the parade.

The 2008 parade presents the theme of Israel at Sixty echoing the festive celebrations that occurred in Israel for the occasion. New to the parade is “a human ribbon of color and movement;” international dance troupes ranging from Israeli folk dancers, Russian Ballet, Bukharian and Georgian dancers dressed in traditional costume. One hundred thousands participants are expected and one million spectators. Through the planning process for the event, the organizers hope the participants gain an increased Jewish identity and pride while learning about the accomplishments of Israel and Jews and showing support for the state.[15]

The Jewish Leadership Council of the United Kingdom has announced that it will host a Salute to Israel day parade projected to take place simultaneously in London and Manchester. Many Jewish communal organizations have gotten involved to plan the event and they expect a large turnout. A large number of sectors of the British Jewish community will be represented and the hope is to project an expression of solidarity with Israel as well as unity within the community itself. The parade is scheduled for 29 June 2008.[16]

Finances and Control

Following the dismantling of the American Zionist Youth Foundation in 1996, the Salute to Israel Parade became a project of a new, independent, nonprofit organization. Under the auspices of the Israel Tribute Committee,  the parade has greater autonomy. Most of its funding still comes from private donors, although for the last few years it has received a significant grant from the UJA-Federation of New York. Additional funds are raised through participation fees and float advertisers.

The Israel Tribute Committee oversees the running of the entire operation. These are communal leaders who have taken it upon themselves to ensure the continuation of the parade. Their involvement is crucial not only to the parade’s functioning but to its very existence. Additionally, they are constantly looking to include the new generation of leadership and expand the parade in many ways, such as including new groups and a longer route.[17] The parade is currently housed at the Jewish Community Relations Council which is working with the organizers in their outreach efforts and specifically expanding to the Russian speaking communities of New York.

Communities Involved

To demonstrate that solidarity with Israel comes from the entire American Jewish community, Jews of all religious affiliations take part in the parade. Marchers come from day schools, yeshivas, and synagogues. College Hillels, youth movements, and civic organizations also send representatives. The Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist movements are all represented in some form, from floats to congregational banners. Unaffiliated and nondenominational Jews participate through their federations and Jewish community centers.

Although the event mostly attracts people from the tri-state region of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, groups from California, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Florida have also taken part. Parade organizers use outreach methods, in addition to the publicity the parade receives, to ensure that all sectors of the Jewish community are represented.[18] These include Jews of Russian, Yemenite, and Sephardic ethnicities. The parade is filmed by several American news agencies to be shown across the United States, as well as for Russian TV to be broadcast to Israel, Canada, Europe, and parts of Russia.[19]

The parade offers an important opportunity to learn about Israel, the American Jewish community, and Jewish culture in general. Several non-Jewish groups also take part. Marching bands from public high schools, bugle corps, and even the New York City Police Department prepare music for the parade. Fire departments also participate, and there are floats for companies such as ShopRite and the New York Sun.[20]

Among the non-Jewish participants are a group of American Indians and the Guardian Angels of New York. Since its founding in 1978, the Guardian Angels, a nonprofit organization that works to ensure public safety, has been committed to appearing in the parade. Members say that marching in it is their opportunity to support the Jewish people and Israel.[21]

Elected officials, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have appeared at the parade, including governors of New York, mayors and former mayors of New York City, senators, and congressmen. Israeli dignitaries attend as well. Before the official step-off, there is a press conference in which politicians sometimes state their positions regarding Israel. Before the 2006 parade, several American dignitaries expressed dismay about a cut in New York City’s counter-terrorism budget by the Department of Homeland Security.[22]

Indeed, the parade often becomes an arena for political campaigns. For example, in 1989 all the candidates for New York City mayor participated.[23] The presence of politicians has significantly increased since the parade’s founding, when only the Israeli ambassador and a few American politicians appeared. The increase has to do with recognizing the importance of media coverage. The American Jewish community and Israel also benefit from the publicized statements of support by U.S. officials.

Protesters

Every year since the parade’s inception it has not been without a small group of protesters. They are a heterogeneous group who try to dampen the spirits of the parade. Neturei Karta and Satmar Hasidim shout and carry signs declaring that Zionism goes against Judaism and the Torah. Alongside them anti-Israeli Arabs and Americans decry the “Israeli occupation of Palestine,” “Israeli brutality,” and the Zionist state as a whole. People have been known to yell “Am Yisrael die (People of Israel die)” and compare Israeli actions to those of the Nazis.

Standing close by, but not with these protesters, are those carrying signs such as “Pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian.” They come from left-wing Jewish groups such as Women in Black and Tikkun Community. Although they try not to associate themselves with the anti-Israeli contingent, they still position themselves on the outskirts of the parade and express dissent against Israel.[24] All these protesters together number no more than one or two hundred, but they often hijack the media’s coverage of the parade.

No Politics Involved?

Since it seeks to unite all factions of the American Jewish community, the parade takes an apolitical stance. Upon registering for the parade, groups must discuss their participation with its committee and are advised how best to present their message. All banners and floats must be approved beforehand.[25] Groups and attendees often feel that putting politics aside, and focusing on Jewish unity and support for Israel, is the most important aspect of the parade.[26]

Although the parade mostly succeeds in achieving this goal, it is unable to exclude politics completely. The parade committee’s official position is that they take no stance vis-à-vis the Israeli or the U.S. government. They do not see the parade as a rally but as an opportunity to display Israel as a beautiful, normal country. Nevertheless, each time many of the marchers and spectators flaunt their own political views about Israel. As former parade director Ruth Kastner noted, many claim that anything involving Israel inevitably becomes political.[27]

3. Case Studies within the Parade

The Rise of Ethnic Consciousness

Developments in the United States during the 1960s created an environment that made the Salute to Israel Parade possible. Known as a decade of liberalism, social disruption, and cultural revolution, the 1960s was also a period when various groups experienced rising ethnic consciousness. This was fostered by several conditions existing at that time.

Affecting the status of all ethnic groups in the United States was the Civil Rights Movement. In an effort to obtain racial equality, African Americans fought local, state, and federal governments. Through a combination of civil disobedience and violent measures, disenfranchised black men and women eventually won the right to vote – in practice and not only in theory – and receive the same education, employment, and respect as white Americans. This success inspired other minorities to assert themselves and strive for equality. American Indians, Asian Americans, and Latinos worked to eliminate what they perceived as barriers to just treatment.

Another outcome of the Civil Rights Movement was the Black Power movement. Many interpreted Black Power as a sort of counterforce to segregation, rejecting the mainstream vision of those such as Martin Luther King and using violence in an attempt to self-segregate. However, the lasting impact of this movement was to enhance racial pride. Black Power drew many African Americans back to their African roots and impelled black literary, artistic, and intellectual trends.[28]

Overall, the Civil Rights Movement encouraged minority groups to assert their own cultural identity. Its impact was widespread and lasting.

Another cause of increased ethnic consciousness in the 1960s was the general atmosphere of individualism. Rejecting the 1950s trend of conformity and consumerism, people stressed their uniqueness. Instead of viewing America as a “melting pot,” intellectuals and diverse groups advocated cultural pluralism.[29] Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan characterized ethnic groups as “unmeltable” and pluralism, rather than assimilation, as the new model for American society.[30] This outlook spread throughout the United States and was incorporated both into law and societal norms, enabling the greater acceptance of ethnic diversity in the country.

This new era in American history had major repercussions for the American Jewish community. The celebration of ethnic roots inspired many Jewish communities to reintroduce traditional practices.[31] Jewish writers and filmmakers incorporated Jewish themes into their works and no longer shied away from featuring stereotypical Jews as protagonists.[32] And in the new environment, Jews could openly support Israel without fear of dual-loyalty accusations. These conditions also enabled the emergence of the Salute to Israel Parade.

Large Turnout during Times of Trouble

In the true spirit of the parade, the number of participants greatly increases during times of war or trouble for Israel. This was first seen in the 1967 parade, which took place on the Sunday before the Six Days War when Israel’s Arab neighbors were already mobilizing for the conflict. Egypt had already remilitarized the Sinai and closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping.

The previous year, because of a small turnout, the parade had been moved from Fifth Avenue to Riverside Drive, which remained the venue for 1967. The 1967 event, however, saw a resurgence of participants who, fearful of the existential threat that Israel faced, viewed it as their duty to support the country in any way they could.[33]

That year the parade had the character of a solidarity demonstration. About 250,000 people marched, thereby giving the broader community a chance to express itself.[34] Hundreds of thousands of Jews poured into the park in a moving act of sympathy with Israel. Because of the attendance, the parade was returned to Fifth Avenue in 1968.[35] It also received increased funding both from organizations and private donors.[36]

In the 1980s, however, both the turnout and the support for the parade began to decline again. Many influential American Jews said the parade was important for its time, but that time had passed. Israel was no longer seen as so inspirational and many in the United States believed that because of its military power, the existential threat had passed. The American Jewish community began to turn inward to address its own problems. Yet with the outbreak of the First Intifada late in 1987, American Jews realized that Israel still faced threats and the parade was once again revitalized.[37]

More recently, during the years of the Second Intifada, the numbers of marchers and spectators have been the largest ever. In Israel’s trying times it was seen as even more important that Jews show their solidarity.[38] When asked, participants attributed their attendance to sympathy for terror victims and support for Israel’s fight against terror.[39]

In 2002, the parade organizers decided to change the atmosphere in light of the new situation that both the United States and Israel faced. This parade was the first following 9/11 and occurred during the height of the Second Intifada. It did not have the traditional marching bands and balloons. Instead of clowns entertaining the crowds, there were Uncle Sam and Statue of Liberty characters, reflecting the patriotic theme.[40] American and Israeli flags and patriotic songs were seen and heard throughout the streets and there were more signs with statements such as “Our Hope Will Not Be Lost” and “Pray for Peace.” Even the Reconstructionist movement, which had been absent in part because of the decision of parade officials to deny entry to a gay synagogue in 1993, participated and rented a float in support of Israel.[41]

Many felt that the parades in that period evolved into both a pride parade and a demonstration of persistent Jewish support for Israel. Despite the parade officials’ position that it is apolitical, many believed it had assumed a political bent. In the 2002 parade, a float that was sponsored by VIM Jeans read “Boycott France and French Products.”[42]

Many spectators held up signs vilifying Yasser Arafat and praising Meir Kahane, the founder of the Jewish Defense League who urged the deportation of West Bank and Gaza Arabs. After 9/11, the fight against terrorism became more significant for New Yorkers. Many participated in the parade to decry both the attacks on Americans and Israelis. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg declared at the start of the 2002 event: “Between last year’s parade and this year’s parade we had the terrible tragedy of 9/11 and if New Yorkers don’t stand up today, I don’t know when you would. This is the time to say to the world terrorists cannot beat us. We will not tolerate it-period.”[43]

A Shift in the Jewish Community Regarding Homosexuality

For over twenty years, homosexuality in Judaism has been a major topic of discussion for American Jews. From the controversy within the Conservative movement today about the ordaining of openly gay rabbis to the limited acceptance of gay Jews in the greater community, this issue is continually being debated.

In 1993, the Salute to Israel Parade had to take a stance on this matter when they received a request by Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, a New York City synagogue for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Jewish community, to take part in the event. The American Zionist Youth Foundation (AZYF) and the synagogue reached a compromise to allow the congregation to march under a banner that included the congregation’s name but made no reference to its gay and lesbian affiliation.[44] However, before the parade, the AZYF banned the congregation because they had discussed the compromise in public.[45] According to Rabbi Joseph Sternstein, AZYF chair, the compromise was contingent on the synagogue members’ agreement that they would not openly discuss the situation.[46]

The major Orthodox organizations had protested allowing the congregation to march and stated that they could not participate if it did. For them, marching together with the congregation entailed giving approval to the violation of Halakhah (Jewish law).[47] Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Beth Simchat Torah said she believed her congregation was being barred from the parade because of the Orthodox community’s opposition.[48] “Elements of the Jewish community want us to remain hidden,” she said. “Neither anti-Semitism nor anti-gay attitudes will render invisible our support for the State of Israel.”[49]

In 1993 and in subsequent parades, representatives of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah attended so as to protest their exclusion. Congregation members expressed dismay at being barred from an event that was supposed to unite American Jewry in support of Israel. They said the parade should not be about internal Jewish politics. In solidarity with the congregation, other Manhattan synagogues refused to march.[50]

Again in 1999, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah submitted a request to participate to the parade committee. A compromise was agreed: creating a Manhattan Cluster of Synagogues for synagogues that had after-school programs. The rule that participating schools had to have a minimum of 75 students was stretched to allow the congregation’s inclusion, and it marched along with several other Manhattan synagogues under the banner “Manhattan Synagogues-We Are One Singular Sensation!” Indeed, that year’s theme was “We Are All One People.”[51]

The difficulty that Congregation Beth Simchat Torah encountered is representative of the larger struggle between the gay Jewish community and the Jewish world in general. This community is gradually being accepted into Jewish communal life. The parade committee’s 1999 decision reflects this evolution among American Jewry.

The Israel Day Concert

Directly after the Salute to Israel Parade ends, tens of thousands of participants gather in Central Park for what has been named the Israel Day Concert. The concert has no official connection to the parade; it is an additional event that attracts many of its participants. Established in 1993 in protest against the Oslo agreement, the concert has become an annual right-wing rally.

The theme varies based on the events of the year. Recent concerts have focused on disengagement, realignment, and opposing a Palestinian state, with groups attending dressed in orange-the official color of the antidisengagement bloc in Israel. The concerts also are dedicated to victims of terrorism. Hosted by the Israel Concert in the Park Committee in association with the National Council of Young Israel, popular bands and singers take part as well as speakers. Past speakers have included Ariel Sharon a decade before his disengagement plan, other right-wing Israeli politicians, and prominent rabbis. In the 2006 events, former Gush Katif residents told their personal stories.

Whereas many parade participants say they are glad it is an apolitical event, concertgoers tend to be proud to take a stance on Israeli issues. In an attempt to increase turnout for the event, concert organizers use a tactic of making the parade “lead into” the concert. This is done explicitly and succeeds in drawing numerous people from the parade. Many of these are not right-wing and go to the concert for the music and continued festivities. There is a manipulative aspect to the concert organizers’ approach.

Most of those who attend the Israel Day Concert, like most of the speakers, musicians, and sponsors, are Orthodox Jews. This reflects the American Orthodox community’s shift to the Right both religiously and politically. A poll commissioned by Yeshiva University found that 56 percent of Orthodox Americans opposed the disengagement plan whereas 66 percent of Conservative, 72 percent of Reform, and 70 percent of “other” Jews supported it. Orthodox Jews also were more supportive of the Iraq war. Much of the difference can be attributed to the religious concern about ceding parts of the Land of Israel.[52]

The concert also reflects the changing relationship between American Jews and Israel. Since the 1980s, American Jews have more openly expressed opposition to Israeli policies. Although the general Jewish populace continues to be fully supportive of Israel’s actions, there are increasing oppositional voices.

Historically, American Jews had a one-dimensional relationship to Israel. At the time the state was founded, American Jewish representatives stressed to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion that they would provide support but it was inappropriate to keep speaking of aliyah (Jewish immigration to Israel). Later, in response to numerous factors such as U.S. involvement in the Middle East, the First Intifada, and the Jonathan Pollard case, American Jews began to dissent more often from Israeli policies, whether from the Left or the Right. They no longer felt they had no right to take such stances.[53]

This trend continued to grow throughout the Oslo process; the Second Intifada, during which some American Jews called on Israel to immediately withdraw from the territories; and the disengagement from Gaza and the initially announced pullback from the West Bank. The trend also is represented by the “pro-Israel, pro-Palestine” protesters beside the parade, who take the opposite stance from the organizers of the Israel Day Concert. The difference between these protesters and the orange-attired right-wingers is that the latter march in the parade itself. The Israel Day Concert is their expression of dissent, but it takes place after the parade, not during it. Nevertheless, their opposition, too, is part of American Jewry’s recent tendency to openly criticize Israel.

4. Conclusions

A Celebration of Israel and Jewish Freedom

In 1972, Marshall Sklare in his book America’s Jews referred to

the parade that takes place annually on 5th Avenue in New York City-the “Salute to Israel” parade. The parade was first held in 1964. At the beginning it was a small-scale and hesitant event but it has grown into a mammoth spectacle involving hundreds of thousands of participants and spectators. The idea is now widely imitated in other major centers of Jewish population. The occasion of the parade is a new holiday in the ancient Jewish calendar: Yom Haatzmaut (Israel Independence day). To the community at large the deviation of Jews from their traditional reticence to appear in public as Jews is little realized: the parade appears to be just another ethnic event comparable to what Irishmen have been doing for decades on St. Patrick’s Day, Italians on Columbus Day or Germans on Steuban Day. Even Jews are generally unaware of the novelty of their behavior, as well as the fact that it is Israel that has given them the psychological freedom to appear in public as Jews.[54]

The parade marked a turning point in the communal life of American Jewry. Since their initial arrival in America in the 17th century, American Jews have been fearful of anti-Semitism and the charge of dual loyalty. This parade was one of the first times American Jewry assembled publicly just to show their Jewishness and their support for the Jewish state.

It was this initial step that helped American Jewry become a prominent voice in the United States and to be recognized publicly as Jews. With a common interest in mind, American Jews could unite as an ethnic group and declare allegiance to a country across the world. As Haim Zohar remarked, “The state of Israel gave Jews the freedom to appear in public as Jews, and it was an Israeli that gave them the parade.”[55]

The Parade’s Effects

The parade has been a major force in shaping American Jewry’s relations with Israel and among themselves. It enables them to work together and feel their basic commonality. As one participant put it, “There is a broad consensus deep in the Jewish community that is reflected here in the streets of New York.”[56] All this is heightened in times of crisis for Israel.

The parade also gives Israel and Israeli culture a more authentic relevance among American Jewry. The educational theme allows learning about Israel in a unique and hands-on way. It can be difficult for American Jews to connect to a place that is so distant, but the parade reinforces the Zionist idea and the sense of being both committed to Israel and a proud American.

The parade also has given American Jews a new approach to their Jewish identity. It underlines the national dimension instead of seeing their Jewishness as defined solely by the Jewish religion. This has helped them reshape their identity by infusing Zionism into the mainstream of their communal life. The parade does not focus on religion but instead highlights the importance of Israel for the Jewish people.

Changes in the Parade Reflect Changes in the Community

The parade fostered significant change in the American Jewish community, and also reflects the community’s evolution. In a sense it is a barometer for the community and its trends. The three cases of the gay synagogue’s acceptance in the parade, turnout during times of trouble, and the Israel Day Concert indicate how the community’s development affects the dynamics and politics of the parade. The attendance of the parade also suggests American Jews’ sense of comfort and security in the United States. The participants, the themes that are chosen, and the dynamics of the parade itself reflect how American Jews relate to Israel and to themselves.

*     *     *

Notes

[1] Interview with Dan Ronen, 31 July 2006.

[2] Interview with Haim Zohar, 28 July 2006.

[3] Interview with Ted Comet, 30 July 2006.

[4] Interview with Ted Comet, 30 July 2006.

[5] Interview with Dan Ronen, 31 July 2006.

[6] Interview with Haim Zohar, 28 July 2006.

[7] Interview with Ted Comet, 30 July 2006.

[8] Interview with Haim Zohar, 28 July 2006.

[9] Interview with Dan Ronen, 31 July 2006.

[10] Interview with Haim Zohar, 28 July 2006.

[11] Interview with Dan Ronen, 31 July 2006.

[12] Interview with Haim Zohar, 28 July 2006.

[13] Interview with Dan Ronen, 31 July 2006.

[14] Salutetoisrael.com.

[15] www.salutetoisrael.com

[16] www.salutetoisrael.org

[17] Interview with Ruth Kastner, 30 July 2006.

[18] Interview with Ruth Kastner, 30 July 2006.

[19] Rachel Klapper and Deena Greenberg, “Despite Rain, Crowds Turn Out for Israel Day Parade,” www.writeonforisrael.org/students/Despite%20Rain,%20Crowds%20Turn%20Out%20For%20Israel%20Day%20Parade.shtml.

[20] www.salutetoisrael.com.

[21] Melissa Hauptman and Bella Ballas, “Angels Guarding Us All at the Israel Day Parade,” www.writeonforisrael.org/students/Angels%20guarding%20us%20all%20at%20the%20Israel%20Day%20Parade.shtml.

[22] Carolyn Slutsky, “Parade Passion Prevails,” Jewish Week, 9 June 2006.

[23] Orit Galili, Haaretz, 9 May 1989. [Hebrew]

[24] Nacha Cattan, “N.Y. Israel Parade Draws Broad Spectrum of Marchers,” Forward, 10 May 2002.

[25] Interview with Ruth Kastner, 30 July 2006.

[26] Slutsky, “Parade Passion Prevails.”

[27] Interview with Ruth Kastner, 30 July 2006.

[28] Alan Brinkley, American History, Vol. 2 (New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2003), 840.

[29] Ibid., 870.

[30] As described in Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Beyond the Melting Pot (Cambridge, MA: Joint Center for Urban Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the President and Fellows of Harvard University, 1963).

[31] Betty Hoffman, Jewish Hearts: A Study of Dynamic Ethnicity in the US and USSR  (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001).

[32] David Desser and Lester Friedman, American Jewish Filmmakers (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 2.

[33] Interview with Haim Zohar, 28 July 2006.

[34] Interview with Ted Comet, 30 July 2006.

[35] Interview with Haim Zohar, 28 July 2006.

[36] Interview with Ted Comet, 30 July 2006.

[37] Interview with Ted Comet, 30 July 2006.

[38] “Salute to Israel Parade Draws Record Crowd,” NY1 News, www.ny1.com/ny1/content/index.jsp?stid=1&aid=21214.

[39] Melissa Radler, “NY Jews Rally for Israel,” Jerusalem Post, 6 May 2002.

[40] Stewart Ain, “A Pride with Dignity,” Jewish Week, 26 April 2002, www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=6094.

[41] Cattan, “N.Y. Israel Parade.”

[42] Ibid.

[43] “Salute to Israel Parade Draws Record Crowd,” NY1 News, www.ny1.com/ny1/content/index.jsp?stid=1&aid=21214.

[44] Alex Witchel, “At Work With: Sharon Kleinbaum: ‘Luckiest Rabbi in America’ Holds Faith amid the Hate,” New York Times, 5 May 1993.

[45] Jacques Steinberg, “Gay Dispute Fails to Dim Israel Parade,” New York Times, 10 May 1993.

[46] K. C. Wildmoon, “Jewish Gays and Lesbians Banned from Parade Marking 45th Anniversary of Israel,” Southern Voice, 30 May 1993.

[47] Rabbi Benjamin Hecht, “The March for Israel Parade and Halachic Decision Making,” Nishma Update, June 1993.

[48] Wildmoon, “Jewish Gays and Lesbians.”

[49] Steinberg, “Gay Dispute.”

[50] Ibid.

[51] Congregation Beth Simchat Torah’s pictures from the Salute to Israel parade, 1999 and 2000, www.infotrue.com/salute.html.

[52] E. J. Kessler, “Orthodox Disagree with Other Jews on Gaza Pullout, Iraq War,” Forward, 1 July 2005.

[53] Stuart Eizenstat, “Loving Israel, Warts and All,” Foreign Policy, No. 81 (Winter 1990-1991), 87-105.

[54] Marshall Sklare, America’s Jews (New York: Random House, 1971), 215-16.

[55] Interview with Haim Zohar, 28 July 2006.

[56] Quoted in Klapper and Greenberg, “Despite Rain.”

*     *     *

Marissa Gross graduated Magna Cum Laude from Barnard College, Columbia University with a B.A. in American History. Since September 2007, she has been studying toward her Master’s Degree in Education Policy and Administration at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She was a research assistant at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs in 2006. At present, in addition to her studies, Marissa is employed at the Jerusalem Center as the Communications Coordinator.

About Marissa Gross

Marissa Gross graduated Magna Cum Laude from Barnard College, Columbia University with a B.A. in American History. She earned a Master's Degree in Education Policy and Administration from the Hebrew University.