Feature Stories

Somber mood at annual Israel parade in New York

By Mike Wagenheim

Tens of thousands braved security concerns and turned out for the annual Israel parade in Manhattan whose festive “Celebrate Israel” theme was recast this year as “One People, One Heart.”

Fifth Avenue was awash on Sunday with “bring them home” chants, an hours-long reminder of the aftermath of Oct. 7 and a nation still reeling and waiting for the return of the hostages whom Hamas holds in Gaza.

“This is the most important parade in my lifetime,” Mark Treyger, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, which organizes the parade, told JNS.

The grandson of Holocaust survivors and son of Soviet parents who fled religious persecution, Treyger said that “strength and resiliency is in me both as a New Yorker and as a proud Jew.”

“We’re in the aftermath of the worst attack on the Jewish people since the days of the Holocaust,” he said. “We have seen astronomical antisemitism, 

Treyger called the 60th annual parade “an affirmation of our unwavering commitment and pride in our Jewish identity, our love for our heritage, our support for Israel and also our love to live in the greatest city here in New York.”

Eric Goldstein, CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, told JNS that “we are not the same people. After Oct. 7, we walk around today with a heavy heart.”

Goldstein spent the weekend meeting with families of hostages. “Each story just breaks your heart,” he said. 

More than 70 family members of hostages participated in the parade, joined by 2,000 supporters of New York’s Hostages Families Forum.

Some 200 Jewish civic and religious groups marched, as did traditional bands and dancing troupes alongside floats that have long dotted the parade that stretched 20 blocks along Fifth Ave.

“What you’re seeing today are larger crowds of marchers than ever before,” Goldstein said, “showing just how determined the New York community is to stand in solidarity and love with Israel.”

The New York Police Department said it doubled its usual presence at this year’s event, with the extra cops assigned solely to deal with protesters. 

Anti-Israel protesters are usually assigned a place on 59th Street along the parade route, but due to particularly violent pro-Hamas protests around the city, demonstrators were pushed a block off the route.

There were only a few minor engagements with passing Israel supporters on Sunday.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz and Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli participated, as did a handful of Knesset members—a lighter presence of Israeli officials after last year’s record turnout of ministers.

New York City and State officials turned out in full force with Eric Adams, the city’s mayor, saying that “our message is extremely clear: Destroy Hamas, bring home the hostages.”

Adams marched alongside family members of hostages.

“Today you’re seeing solidarity. We don’t want to see any innocent person die, but we have to deal with the hate of Hamas and it must be dismantled and destroyed,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is Jewish and has a long history of supporting Israel, drew heavy and sustained jeers at the start of the parade route when he spoke. Schumer has been highly critical in recent weeks of the Israeli government and the Israel Defense Forces.

Referring to Hamas, Schumer said that “we know who is responsible for this evil.” A man standing mere feet away shouted, “You.”

Reps. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) and Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) held a press conference with the families of Omer Neutra and Itay Chen. Both families have long-standing ties to the city.

The Long Island-born Neutra, a tank commander serving near Gaza, has been missing since Oct. 7. Chen, a Brooklyn native who was also serving near Gaza, was killed on Oct. 7. His body is still being held.

Standing with the families of Neutra and Chen, Torres said that “we all want to see an end to the war in Gaza. But an end to the war requires above all else the release of the hostages.” 

“Hamas has the power to end the war it began and release the hostages,” he said.

For Suozzi, the issue was personal. 

“I know this family well,” he told JNS, of the Neutras. “It turns out that I had met Omer Neutra when he was in high school. And I have a 22-year-old son, and I can’t imagine what they’re going through. We’re going to do everything we can to fight to bring them home.”

Suozzi told JNS that no matter where any member of Congress stood on Israel, the fact that American hostages are still being held in Gaza should be enough to bring them together.

“Whether you’re a right wing conservative or left-wing progressive, everybody should agree,” said Suozzi. “We want to bring home our American hostages, and in doing so, hope to bring an end to this conflict and bring all the hostages home.”

Daniel Elgarat, brother of hostage Itzik, told JNS that the turnout on Sunday was “very heartwarming.”

“I’m not surprised. I know there are people here that are very supportive and caring, and we want to thank all of them,” he said.

Sharon Sharabi, the brother of hostages Eli and Yossi Sharabi, told JNS that the feeling in New York “feels like our home. A lot of Jews, a lot of American citizens that are supporting Israel. 

Yossi Sharabi was thought to have been killed by an Israeli Air Force strike on a building in Gaza. Both Yossi’s body and Eli, who is thought to still be alive, are still in Gaza.

“It is an important day for us to know that American people stand with Israel, every day, every time, everywhere,” Sharon Sharabi said.

Elgarat told JNS there wasn’t much reason for optimism with respect to the deal with Hamas that U.S. President Joe Biden outlined in a speech on Friday.

“We lost our trust in our government, and we hope that they will surprise us,” he said.

Sharabi was more hopeful.

“We wish that we will close the deal as soon as possible,” he said. “It’s not simple, but we hope we can save them together—all the world.”

Goldstein, of the UJA, told JNS that it’s necessary to have joy and pride about Israel.

“It would be really inappropriate this year to have pom poms and beach balls,” he said. “That said, we have to still celebrate the miracle that is the modern day state of Israel. We need to carry the concerns of the hostages, the devastation, that destruction.”

PHOTO: Israel Parade

CAP: New York Gov. Kathy Hochul marches in the Israel Day Parade on 5th Avenue on June 2, 2024. Credit: Susan Watts/Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul.

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