For the first time in the 50-year history of the annual New York City parade in honor of Israel, the grand marshal will be a member of the Greater MetroWest community.
He is Robert Benrimon of West Orange. A native of Morocco, Benrimon is a major Jewish community philanthropist perhaps best known for the 25 Lions of Judah he helped fund in 2007. Benrimon consulted on the fabrication and production of the life-size lions for the Israel and Overseas desk of the then United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ. The lions — fittingly, inspired by New York City's “Cow Parade” — were decorated by local Jewish instituions and displayed around the area, .
“I think being grand marshal is one of the biggest privileges a human being can have,” he told NJ Jewish News in a May 13 phone interview. “To open up the parade on its 50th anniversary is really significant.”
Professionally, Benrimon is an artist and designer. His Manhattan firm, Skyframe, creates store displays for such fashion designers as Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, and Ralph Lauren at department stores all over the country.
He has applied those creative skills to his synagogue, Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David in West Orange, crafting the synagogue’s Holocaust memorial and its stained-glass windows depicting the 12 Tribes of Israel.
“Robert has done a lot of wonderful things in our community and in New York,” said Larry Rein, a past president of AABJ&D who is is about to assume the presidency of JCC MetroWest. “Since he has been chosen, we decided we want to honor him. Our shul will have our own delegation at the parade for the first time. We will have ‘Congregation AABJ&D’ on our placards and our T-shirts and all our tchotchkes, and we invite anyone from West Orange or other parts of Greater MetroWest to join us.”
The synagogue will also honor Benrimon at the kiddush after Shabbat services on Saturday, May 31, the day before the parade.
Previously called the “Salute to Israel,” the parade’s name was changed to “Celebrate Israel” in 2011. This year’s theme, reflecting the milestone anniversary, is “50 Reasons to Celebrate Israel.”
The parade will be on Sunday, June 1. It proceeds up Fifth Avenue, from 57th to 74th streets, beginning at 11 a.m.
As in other years, the event is not without controversy.
New York’s Jewish Community Relations Council, which organizes the parade, has been urged by some organizations to ban a number of left-leaning groups, including New Israel Fund, J Street, and B’Tselem.
Benrimon told NJJN he is opposed to excluding them.
“In my view, if Abu Mazen” — Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority — “asked me tomorrow to walk in the Israel parade, I would more than welcome him. I welcome all organizations who want to support Israel.”
He said groups like New Israel Fund and J Street and B’Tselem “are not a problem at all. Just the opposite. If they march in support of Israel, let it be. Whoever walks has to hold an Israeli flag. Then I don’t have a problem with them. We are entitled to different opinions,” he insisted.
Benrimon moved with his family from Morocco to Israel when he was six years old, then came to the United States after serving in the Israel Defense Forces.
“I came just as a traveler and a week before going back to Israel I met my wife, Sheila,” he said. With that, he was convinced to stay in America.
The couple settled in Brooklyn before moving to West Orange in 1985. They have three children: Michelle, a nurse at Englewood Hospital, and Jonathan and Stephanie Rich, both of whom work with their father at Skyframe. Stephanie and her husband, Michael, are the parents of Benrimon’s grandson, Jacob.