5th Avenue Transforms into Sea of “Blue & White” as Tens of Thousands Celebrate Israel’s 70th Birthday

Rabbi Alan Berkowitz (waving) leads his Magen David Yeshivah 6,7 & 8 graders in the Israel Day Parade. (Courtesy- Magen David Yeshiva)

On Sunday June 3, 2018 tens of thousands of marchers joined forces on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence in the 54th annual “Celebrate Israel” parade. Sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), the parade has been a highly anticipated annual event in New York City since its inception in 1964.

Magen David Yeshivah 8th graders carry one of the banners created in-house at MDY. (Courtesy- Magen David Yeshiva)

Both marchers and spectators began to assemble as early as 8:00AM for the 11:00AM parade start. The NYPD took every precaution to make sure that safety and security were in order for the parade. The lively festivities lasted until the final marcher crossed the finish line at the East 79th Street entrance to Central Park.

The parade began on schedule even though the city’s mayor was nowhere to be found in the borough of Manhattan. The mayor chose to roll out his new controversial education entrance plans for New York City specialty high schools. His announcement was presented at a school in Brooklyn, where he and the city’s new chancellor RIchard A. Carranza addressed students and parents to discuss the city’s new acceptance program for the specialty high schools.

Mayor DeBlasio arrived at the parade hours after the first marchers, including the NYPD Drum and Bugle Corp had made their way up Fifth Avenue. The spectators and parade marchers seem indifferent to the fact that the mayor had not taken a prominent role in leading the parade.

Magen David Yeshivah 8th grade girls dance. The theme being ISRAEL going strong at 70. (Courtesy- Magen David Yeshiva)

There were plenty of honorees representing Israel, like Israel’s Permanent Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, former Deputy Minister of Defense of Israel (2013-2014) and author of the book, “The Will to Prevail.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo received the largest cheers along with Israel and American Jewish leaders. Marching with the governor were Letitia James, New York City’s Public Advocate and now the Democratic Party’s choice for State Attorney General, a position that our governor once held. Also marching with Governor Cuomo were NY State Assemblyman David Weprin, former Assembly member Mark Weprin, both sons of former speaker of the New York State Assembly, Saul Weprin, who has a major street in Queens named after him. Also marching close to the governor were Jewish Community Relations Council President Charles S. Temel and the organization’s Vice President Michael Miller.

Temple Beth Ahm in Aberdeen, NJ. (Photo Credit: Dan Miller – DMD Images)

Prior to the kickoff of the parade, many elected officials and esteemed personalities in the pro-Israel camp assembled at the 42nd annual Met Council on Jewish Poverty’s legislative breakfast. The organization is one of the largest in the nation; helping people all over the Metropolitan area overcome homelessness, medical problems and poverty related issues. Last year the Met Council on Jewish Poverty served more than 225,000 New Yorkers in need. Under the current leadership of former New York City Council member David G. Greenfield, who has assumed the position of CEO, the Met Council helps the less fortunate, irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity. The Met Council operates the following programs:

  1. Kosher Food Network hosts 30 regular food pantries serving 50,000 people every month and 100 more pantries during holidays. Brooklyn hosts the Central distribution warehouse for the Met Council. The organization has greeted the 21 Century with a new Digital Pantry where clients can order food needs online.
  2. Holocaust Survivor Program- Provides Trauma-informed case assessment and management services. More than 3,000 Holocaust survivors received services last year.
  3. Actor Joel Grey (Photo Credit: Dan Miller – DMD Images)

    Benefit Access- Aids clients in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program(SNAP), also known as the Food Stamps program.

  4. Volunteer Program-The Met Council currently has more than 1,400 volunteers who aid the staff to offer the many wonderful services provided by the Council.
  5. Senior Services- Free social services aid to seniors living in public housing.
  6. Crisis Intervention Services- Provides financial help for immediate, urgent problems such as eviction prevention, suspension of utilities and emergency food card program.
  7. Family Violence Program- Provides Safety planning and case management and emergency financial help for survivors of domestic violence.
  8. Project Metropair- provides home repairs free for low income seniors permitting them to live independently and age safely in their homes.
  9. Housing- Met Council’s affiliates own and manage more than 1,200 units of affordable housing at 21 different residences throughout New York City for low-income and formerly homeless seniors.
  10. Jewish Community Council Network- The Met Council is the Umbrella organization for 16 local JCC’s located in neighborhoods with high numbers of Jewish residents in need of services.
Russian speaking Jewish community of New York (Photo Credit: Dan Miller – DMD Images)

A veritable cornucopia of elected officials representing constituents throughout the state marched in the parade. The New York City Council was represented by many council members who marched behind a banner designating the council. The New York State legislature was represented by many members of the Assembly and the Senate. Washington was well represented by many members of the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Senate.

Among them were: Queens Borough President Melinda Katz; Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark; U.S. Representatives, Carolyn Maloney and Dan Donovan; Senators Joseph Addabbo, Phil Boyle, Leroy Comrie, Brad Hoylman, and Liz Krueger; Assembly Members Ed Braunstein, Steven Cymbrowitz, Jeffrey Dinowitz, Anthony D’Urso, Walter Mosley, Helene Weinstein, and David Weprin; Consul General of Israel in New York Amb. Dani Dayan; Minister of Culture and Sport of Israel Miri Regev (Likud); Minister of Science, Technology, and Space of Israel Ofir Akunis (Likuh); Israeli Knesset Members Shuli Mualem (Bait Yehudi), MK Oded Furer (Israel Beitenu), MK Yoel Hasson (Zion Camp), and MK Nurit Koren (Likud); Director General of the Ministry of Culture of Israel Yossi Sharabi; Adviser to the Director General of Knesset Vadim Braverman; and Knesset Staff Member Yuval Raz.

Music from around the world (Photo Credit: Dan Miller – DMD Images)

Grand Marshals Dina and Jonathan Leader and Honorary Grand Marshals, including actor, childhood icon and Birthright Israel alum Jonathan Lipnicki, TV personality Siggy Flicker, world-renowned and autodidact Chef Eyal Shani, singer and entertainer Lipa Schmeltzer, and host of the Unorthodox Podcast, Liel Leibovitz took prominent positions in the parade as well.

There were marchers from Jewish organizations representing all five boroughs as well as from surrounding Long Island, Westchester and Rockland Counties and surrounding states such as Connecticut and New Jersey.

Hebrew schools and Yeshivas were abundant in the parade with all boroughs and Long Island joined by New Jersey religious schools and Jewish congregations marching and sing favorite Jewish tunes along the parade route, assisted by portable public address systems magnifying the music and the lyrics to the songs sung. One group of Bucharian Jews from Forest Hills broke into song with familiar Russian and Hebrew tunes. When this writer asked if they knew Orche Chorna, the group from E108th Street in Forest Hills broke out in song.

A large group of Jewish teenagers celebrating Israel’s 70th anniversary with a banner featuring Israel’s ReWalk, a bionic walking assistance system. Credit: Shiryn Solny.

Also from Queens, the Hillcrest Jewish Center’s Rabbi Manes Kogan led a group of more than 50 congregants and their family members to celebrate the 70th Birthday of the birth of the State of Israel.

Among the schools participating in this year’s parade were: HAFTR – Hebrew Academy of Five Towns & the Rockaways, HALB – Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, HANC – Hebrew Academy of Nassau County, Magen David Yeshiva of Brooklyn, Yeshiva of Flatbush, Magen David Yeshivah Joe and Celia Esses High School, Ma’ayanot Yeshiva HS for Girls, Manhattan Day School, Rabbi Arthur Schneier Park East Day School, Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva of NJ, Ramaz School MS/HS, Rambam Mesivta and Shalhevet Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, among many others.

The America-China Public Affairs Institute float that boosted Israel’s friendship with China by featuring an enlarged photograph of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and China’s President Xi Jinping. Credit: Shiryn Solny.

To say that the parade was success would be a gross understatement. Kudos to the NYPD and its police commissioner, James P. O’Neill for the high level of security.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo marching in the Celebrate Israel Parade as the honorary grand marshal. Credit: Twitter.

By: Dan Miller, Ph.D. & Joyce Vetere Milowski

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