On Sunday, June 2, tens of thousands of spectators, many wearing blue and white and waving Israel flags, lined the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue to watch this year’s Celebrate Israel Parade. The annual parade is organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, and extended from 57th to 74th Streets. This year’s theme was Rak B’Yisrael, or Only in Israel.
Marching dignitaries included Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill DiBlasio, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Bronx District Attorney Darcell Clark, New York State Attorney General Leticia James, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and delegations from Congress, the state legislature, and the New York City Council.
The greater BWC area was well represented among the marching groups, especially its yeshivot and day schools. “At SAR Academy and High School, we are celebrating our Jubilee year by turning up the volume on our love for Israel. We playfully celebrated the unique elements of Israel with electric energy and amplified love!” explained Morah Adiella Shem-Tov, SAR’s parade coordinator. “Our love and connection to Israel is a big part of who we are as a school, and we look forward to the opportunity to express ourselves and show our support for Israel here in New York.” SAR’s interpretation of the theme was “Let’s Rok the inhabitants and call out from the peaks of the mountains!”
Westchester Torah Academy marched in honor of Israel’s incredible accomplishments in water conservation. “We are celebrating how Israel’s innovations have changed the world and the innovative ways in which our school is changing Jewish education,” described Li-Or Holtzman, director of communication at WTA. “We honor Israel’s innovation in conserving, preserving, reusing, purifying and generating water, as the leading country in these technologies.”
Holtzman added, “While Israel produces much of this technology for their own need, we are stressing how they have shared this technology with the world; they are a light unto the nations. We have also tied this theme into two of our school’s four core values. The first is ‘humility and modesty.’ The Torah instructs us to guard the earth, protect it and conserve its inherited gifts. Just as Israel has developed technology to protect one of its most valuable resources, we view our school’s resources as precious and use them purposefully. The second value is being committed to ‘best self.’ Israel is a small but mighty country. They constantly strive to develop new technologies to enhance the world. Our hope is for our students to take pride that their Ahavat Yisrael inspires them to reach their full potential as individuals and as Am Yisrael!”
Aaron Frank, head of school at Kinneret Day School, stated, “We created a banner that portrays the uniqueness of the land. This will be our 45th year of marching and that tradition is powerful in our school. It allows students to see that they can have a voice in expressing support and solidarity.”
Westchester Day School used the artwork of Yaakov Agam to highlight Israel. “We created an Agam of the Israeli flag and the letters WDS, which was amazing,” described Rabbi Joshua Lookstein, head of school. “We also focused on ‘Beresheet,’ the moon lander. Our t-shirts read, ‘Shoot for the moon.’ Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
Lookstein added, “The beauty of the parade is that it is a true representation of community. The thousands of marchers and spectators represent thousands of opinions about Israel, and yet, once a year, they all gather and unite. That is the essence of community.”
Head of School Jacqueline Herman describes the Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy theme as “a twist to the theme of the parade. The words Rak B’Yisrael, which literally mean ‘only in Israel’ can also be read as Rock in Israel. We chose four famous Israeli rock songs and created a medley of well-known upbeat songs, which were fun to march to.”
Herman continued, “The parade helps BCHA bring to the students the love and dedication that we all feel toward Israel. Introducing the students to Israeli music, rock or any kind, helps them feel part of the Israeli culture and appreciate its depth. At BCHA we are always proud to support Israel!”
Carmel Academy portrayed Rak B’Yisrael with their “Winning Together” theme, inspired by the Israel national baseball team. Nora Anderson, head of school, said, “We are rooting for the Israeli team to qualify for the 2020 summer Olympics after their strong showing in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, in which they advanced 22 spots. Our families, faculty and alumni embraced the theme with great enthusiasm by wearing baseball jerseys and hats, while handing out inflatable baseball bats along the parade route.”
Anderson added, “Ever since Carmel Academy was eligible to march in the Celebrate Israel Parade, they have never missed a year. When we first began marching we were a small institution; however, our presence has always felt large. This was my 16th year marching with Carmel Academy, and each year it is an incredibly meaningful experience for me and our school community. Our students and their families gain a sense of appreciation and importance for actively showing their support and love for Israel and causes that are important to them. I know this is a lesson that is enduring because many of our alumni come back each year to march with us.”
By Judy Berger