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NYC’s Israel parade this year will stress solidarity — and security — over celebration

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(New York Jewish Week) — New Yorkers who attend the Israel parade on Fifth Avenue each year can usually expect festive decor, troupes of energetic dancers and upbeat Israeli music blasting from massive speakers along the route.

Not this year.

The 2024 parade, scheduled for Sunday, June 2, is expected to draw a massive crowd and some American and Israeli dignitaries. But gone will be the music, the bands and the overall celebratory atmosphere.

Instead, the message of the parade can be boiled down to three words: “Bring them home.”

That slogan — calling to free the hostages held by Hamas — will be emblazoned on tens of thousands of T-shirts, signs and other parade materials. It’s one of the ways in which the signature public pro-Israel event of the city’s calendar will be toned down and will take on a serious timbre — as well as added security measures — nearly eight months after Hamas’ attack on Israel and in the shadow of the war in Gaza.

The solemn approach extends even to the name of the event: Last year it was the Celebrate Israel Parade. This year, it’s Israel Day on Fifth.

“The tone is more aligned with solidarity with the Israeli people and with our Jewish identity,” said Mark Treyger, the CEO of New York’s Jewish Community Relations Council, which is organizing the parade. “This is a moment of solidarity. This is a moment to speak with one voice to call to release the hostages.”

In addition to the “Bring them home” gear, many marchers will wear shirts with a design that incorporates the parade’s official theme: “Am Echad, Lev Echad: One People, One Heart.” Each marcher will also carry an Israeli flag so that, in the words of organizers, “Fifth Avenue is bathed in a sea of blue and white.” Yellow ribbons, which symbolize advocacy for the hostages, will also dot the parade.

Last year’s parade drew an estimated 40,000 people, according to organizers, and Treyger said this one would draw tens of thousands. The parade is usually anchored by Jewish and pro-Israel groups that assemble floats, as well as large delegations of schoolchildren from area Jewish day schools. Despite concerns about protesters or attacks at a time of heightened antisemitism, many of those delegations will still be arriving.

“Given what is happening now there is a deeper appreciation for the State of Israel, and a recognition that the support being demonstrated is really important,” Rabbi Jonathan Kroll, principal of SAR High School in the Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale, said. “I think our students are going to see their involvement in the parade as a form of demonstration and not just having a good time.”

Naomi Lippman, dean of the high school at the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway, said parents are planning to join alongside their children. Rabbi Joseph Beyda, head of school at the Yeshivah of Flatbush Joel Braverman High School in Brooklyn, said he expects to have about 650 students march and that they are all “excited to participate.”

The parade will feature 24 new groups as well. Mothers Against Campus Antisemitism, a social media-based group that coalesced in the wake of Oct. 7 to call out and combat antisemitism and anti-Zionism at colleges and universities, will march together with the Jewish National Fund delegation.

Ted Comet, a longtime Jewish leader and co-founder of the parade, who turned 100 last week, will be the honorary grand marshal.

UJA-Federation of New York, the largest funder of the parade, is subsidizing 12 buses — two more than last year — to transport marchers from synagogues and five Jewish Community Centers on Long Island. Mindy Perlmutter, executive director of Long Island’s Jewish Community Relations Council, said 28 synagogues from Long Island will participate, six more than last year, including some that have never marched before.

“It’s very hard to dance around if there are hostages still being held,” she said.  “It is not just a fun thing for the kids. It has now taken on a higher level of seriousness.”

Among the dignitaries marching will be Israel’s new consul general in New York, Ofir Akunis. Parade organizers said they are still confirming which other officials will attend, but that they expect many marchers “from all forms of government.”

The parade always draws a smattering of anti-Zionist protesters. Last year, it also drew Israeli protest groups opposing officials from the country’s right-wing government, which at the time was working to pass legislation weakening the Israeli court system.

Shany Granot-Lubaton, who protested those officials when they arrived in New York last year (but not during the parade itself), has since become a leading advocate for the hostages’ release. She will be one of the leaders of a delegation of 2,000 people in the parade calling for the hostages to be freed. The delegation will include a hostage released earlier in the war, as well as family members of hostages.

“The messaging in general is going to be mostly about the hostages and about the demand to set them free,” Granot-Lubaton said. “It will send a very strong message to all parties involved, which is very important to everyone, and also I think it will give them a lot of strength to feel like the entire American Jewish community is supporting them and standing behind them, literally marching for this cause.”

Given the spike in antisemitic incidents across the city since Oct. 7, the entire parade route along Fifth Avenue from 57th St. to 73rd St. will be secured with extra police and security officials. Mitch Silber, executive director of the Community Security Initiative, a New York Jewish security agency, said his organization has “had multiple high-level conversations with top brass” of the NYPD and City Hall.

Silber added that backpacks would not be allowed at the parade and that there would be changes to where spectators could stand.

“There will be other security precautions in place that spectators won’t see,” he said. “We expect a record number of floats and a strong turnout, which is a good barometer of community interest in the parade.”

Kroll said he trusts the NYPD to ensure the parade’s safety given how it responded to pro-Palestinian protests near the Met Gala earlier this month.

But Treyger said the event’s focus should not be on protesters.

“We are not going to be defined by anyone else other than who we are as a people,” he said. “We will be defined by our strength and our resilience and our love for our Jewish identity. For our solidarity for the hostages and their families. We‘ll be defined by our unwavering dedication and love for Israel.”

with additional reporting by Luke Tress

This article originally appeared on JTA.org.

The post NYC’s Israel parade this year will stress solidarity — and security — over celebration appeared first on The Forward.

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