‘Here to raise our voices’

‘Here to raise our voices’

Hostage families lead thousands up Fifth Avenue in annual Israel parade

The Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston sent a large continent to the walk.
The Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston sent a large continent to the walk.

Families of hostages held captive in Gaza led tens of thousands of marchers, including large contingents of North Jersey and MetroWest students representing their schools, up Fifth Avenue in an Israel parade that mixed festivity and pathos amid heavy security on Sunday.

Much of this year’s edition of the annual march maintained its festive atmosphere, but it was focused on the more than 120 hostages Hamas still is holding.  Throughout the parade, marchers, many carrying signs with the photos of the captives that we’ve seen so often over the last seven months, chanted “Bring them home.”

A delegation from Kibbutz Be’eri, one of the communities hit hardest by Hamas’s barbaric invasion of Israel, was among the leaders of the parade. Four members of the kibbutz are believed to be alive in captivity, and Hamas is holding seven bodies of murdered captives.

The JEC of Elizabeth was among the MetroWest Jewish day schools marching in Manhattan.

“We are coming here to raise our voice,” said Or Gat, whose sister, Carmel Gat, is a hostage. Their mother, Kinneret Gat, was murdered on Oct. 7.

Mr. Gat said the group of 12 Be’eri residents at the parade aimed to present the Israeli side of the eight-month-old conflict to the American public. After the parade, the group will travel around the United States and Canada for 10 days to raise awareness of the hostages and talk about Hamas, which, in her words, is “a terror organization that’s controlling Gaza and is the one that most hurts the Palestinian people.”

Members of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ went to Manhattan to show their support for Israel.

Mr. Gat told the New York Jewish Week, “We need to raise our heads right now for Israel, for the Jewish people, so that they will see our side.”

The parade — an annual event to celebrate Israel, organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and the UJA-Federation of New York — generally draws tens of thousands of participants and spectators, many of them from North Jersey and MetroWest. Day schools historically have been enthusiastic parade-goers, encouraging students to walk together to show pride in both Israel and their schools.

But this year, in reaction to the October 7 attack and the ongoing subsequent war, which has been accompanied by a rise in antisemitism in New York City and across the United States, the parade organizers made some changes. The most obvious was the focus on hostages. Although music still played from the parade floats, organizers said that it requested that participants avoid bringing bands this year. Security was also beefed up, with a heightened police presence and expanded barricades.

The Golda Och Academy of West Orange brought students to show their support for Israel.

Alongside the attention on the hostages, groups of students from Jewish schools danced and sang along to Israeli pop songs by Omer Adam and Eden Ben Zaken, as they have in past years. Many wore yellow ribbons and dog tags associated with the campaign for the captives’ return. Some spectators cried when the hostage families walked past, and stickers supporting the captives were plastered on fences and light posts along the parade route.

Congregation B’nai Israel of Millburn was among the many shuls that sent delegations to Manhattan.

Along with the contingents from Jewish schools from across the metropolitan area, the parade featured local and Israeli officials.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul, New York State Attorney General Letitia James, and Jewish members of the New York City Council marched in the parade, and so did Mayor Eric Adams. New York Rep. Ritchie Torres, one of Israel’s staunchest supporters in Congress, marched with a delegation from SAR Academy, the Bronx Jewish day school in his district whose student body includes many from North Jersey.

Marchers wrapped themselves in Israeli flags and demanded the release of the hostages.

Israeli leaders at the parade included Foreign Minister Israel Katz; outgoing U.N. ambassador Gilad Erdan; New York’s new Israeli consul general, Ofir Akunis; lawmaker Boaz Bismuth of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party; and Shirly Pinto and Yifat Shasha-Biton of the centrist National Unity party. Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett marched with a group of college students organized by Hillel.

Israeli pop star Eden Golan, who drew adulation from Israelis and their supporters for her fifth-place finish in the recent Eurovision song contest, marched alongside Adams and posed for photos with enthusiastic fans.

As the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest celebrates its centennial, it sent supporters to the walk.

There was heavy police security around the march, with helicopters and drones overhead; before it started, law enforcement warned protesters against disrupting it.

That warning appeared to be heeded. Despite some fears of disruption, and though pro-Palestinian protests have occurred frequently across the city since October 7, there was no sign of pro-Palestinian demonstrators along the parade route. In previous years, a small group of protesters would gather in a space designated by police around 58th Street.

Children from the Golda Och Academy’s lower school joined in the walk.

The parade was staged days after President Joe Biden announced an Israeli proposal for a ceasefire deal, and the most noticeable protesters were an Israeli-led group of around a dozen people who chanted on the sidelines for a ceasefire, getting into a back-and-forth shouting match with some of the marchers. Katz, a member of Likud, was heckled with shouts of “Shame.” Some Israelis in New York, like others in Israel, have criticized the government for failing to protect its citizens on October 7 and for not yet securing the release of the hostages.

Kushner Academy students, above and below, walked to show that we are all One People One Heart.

The parade featured a wide array of New York Jewish groups, with delegations from most major Jewish organizations, as well as smaller contingents representing medical professionals, LGBTQ Jews, Bukharian and Russian-speaking Jews, and a Jewish motorcycle club.

Mr. Gat said he was surprised and moved by the show of support from the local Jewish community. “I hope it will make a difference,” he said. “We want everyone to be with us, to save the hostages and to have peace in the Middle East, eventually.”

MetroWesters show their support for both Israel and the century-old federation.


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