The young woman walking along Fifth Avenue seemed confused. She was from a small country thousands of miles away, yet saw throngs of people in matching T-shirts waving her country’s flag and singing in her native language.
She hesitantly approached us as we stood on the sidewalk, watching the May 23 Salute to Israel Parade. “Excuse me,” she said, in an accent that was clearly Israeli. “Why is everyone walking down the street carrying Israeli flags?”
We explained that this was an annual parade in which Americans showed support for Israel, the largest such celebration in the world. She had never heard of it, but she certainly was impressed.
Nineteen-year-old Katie Earl was another tourist who had been unaware of the parade’s existence. “I never really thought about Israel,” said Earl, from Cumbria, England. Despite Jewish leaders’ worry of growing anti-Israel sentiment in the U.K., “Israel is not really talked about in Cumbria,” she said.
In contrast, the parade is the largest event in the world celebrating Israel's independence. This year, an estimated one million people watched schools, synagogues, organizations, marching bands, politicians and more march in the parade.
Puerto Rican native Mark Quinones surveyed the marchers from a bench on the sidewalk. “I wanted to share in the enjoyment,” the 55-year-old New York resident said. “An enemy of Israel is my enemy, because being a Christian, I relate to Israel.”
Likewise, New Jersey resident Phillip Curran came to watch the parade because he “supports Israel spiritually.” Curran, a Christian, said he believes in the Bible, and he carried one in his hand.
Parade announcer Rivka Weiner has been working at the parade for six years and was pleased by the turnout, especially considering the overcast weather. “It’s a lot of fun to announce for the parade and add to the enthusiasm,” she said. “Jews from all walks of life are here, and it’s a very non-political day.”
Jackie Schechter, a junior at Westhill High School in Stamford, CT, and Ayelet Hochman, a junior at the Frisch School in northern New Jersey, are participants in Write On For Israel, an advocacy-through-journalism program sponsored by The Jewish Week and funded by the Avi Chai Foundation.
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