Salute to Israel Parade Renews Hope for American Jews and Israel

This year's parade was a great success.
June 7, 2023
People participate in the annual Celebrate Israel Parade on June 2, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

I first met Ted Comet some forty years ago, when he headed the Young Leadership Division that he had created at the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF), and I was a member of the Israeli Forum. Together, we Israelis and American Jews in our mid careers forged personal relations that grew to become ongoing projects—all aiming at strengthening the bonds between the two communities.

Ted told me how in the early 1960s he had been busy organizing the first rallies for Soviet Jewry. The experience he had gained helped him organize in 1965—together with Haim Zohar, Charles Bick, Dr. Alvin Schiff and Dr. Dan Ronen—the first Salute to Israel Parade in Manhattan. “We had to do something to make Israel more visible,” Comet recalled years later. “It took us 2,000 years to bring about the establishment of a Jewish state. It’s a miracle that deserves to be celebrated.” When he and his wife Shoshana got home that evening, she said the whole thing was like having a baby: difficult, incredibly gratifying, and destined for a future that’s impossible to predict.

Indeed, it was impossible to predict that just two years later, Israel would be facing a mortal danger. As in 1948, large Arab armies were threatening to invade Israel and to destroy it. “Jews were worried that Israel might go under,” Comet recalled. “And the notion of a second Holocaust was horrifying. So, I converted the parade into a demonstration of solidarity.” The event, which was held on the Sunday preceding the Six Day War, drew an astounding quarter of a million marchers.

Every year the “Salute to Israel” parade coordinators choose a specific theme expressing the American Jewish connection to Israel. The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of New York, organizers of the parade since 2011, announced that “this year’s Parade will be a unique event—expanded to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of Israel’s founding! The theme will be Israel @ 75: Renewing the Hope.”

“Renewing the Hope” is a catchy, elusive phrase. It can mean anything to anyone. Renewing what hope, exactly? In an open letter, a group of leading New York rabbis explained: “the hope that Israel will find lasting peace, the hope for the health and happiness of our brothers and sisters, and the hope that our differences will ultimately bring us closer.” Who can say no to any of that?

A more daring and pointed theme, which for obvious reasons the organizers didn’t adopt, would be “the hope that Israel remains a Jewish and democratic state.” Because just few days after the 1967 parade, the glorious victory of the Six Day War saved Israel from the military threat, but at the same time paved the way to the dire situation we are bogged in today: Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea there are the same number of Jews and Arabs. If Israel doesn’t separate from the West Bank Palestinians, it either loses its Jewish nature or ceases to be a democracy. One would expect that American Jews who are worried about the future of Israel would voice their concern in the parade.

The Abraham Accords, however, gave rise to the illusion that “Israel will find lasting peace,” as the rabbis hope, by ignoring the Palestinian problem. American Jews, no wonder, probably reasoned that if the Israelis didn’t care, why should they bother.

But recently, there has been a direct onslaught on Israel again, and unlike in 1967, this time the threat is not from the outside, but from within. Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has launched what it calls a judicial reform, which in truth is a constitutional coup aiming at making the government omnipotent and weakening the Knesset and the Supreme Court. Masses of Israelis have been protesting vehemently for months against this dangerous scheme, and it was refreshing to see that many American Jews, dismissing the old nonsense of “not airing our laundry in front of the goyim,” stood protesting on the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue, in solidarity with their Israeli brothers and sisters.

I truly prefer a parade that draws masses of American Jews and Israeli expats marching on Fifth Avenue under a slogan, say, “Divided we Stand for Israel,” rather than having just the fans of a circumstantial Israeli government showing up while others stay at home because they can’t stand the policies of the same government.

This year’s parade, then, was a great success. It truly renewed the hope that relations between American Jews and Israel will take a more nuanced, genuine form. I’m sure that the 99-year-old Ted Comet, now the Honorary Grand Marshal of the parade, would agree.

Uri Dromi is the former spokesman of the Rabin and Peres governments, 1992-96.

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