This year I marched in the Celebrate Israel Parade with the Queens borough president and the Queens Jewish Community Council. I subsequently marched with the mayor and the Jewish Community Relations Council. No one booed the borough president, but some people heckled the mayor, including a person with a big Trump sign. I was told that the governor and Senator Schumer were also heckled and booed.
The parade was neither the place nor the time for such conduct. Rather, they should be commended for taking time out of their hectic schedules to come and march. I am not aware of anyone in the Trump administration who did march. The purpose of the parade is to show support for Israel. It is not about any other issue. Anybody who comes to support Israel should be cheered. If the president had shown up, I would have cheered.
There were many participating organizations I may have religious or political differences with. Yet when it comes to supporting Israel we are all united. There has been a change in the past few years in the increase of Sephardic groups marching. That is a good sign. It shows that the parade is no longer mainly an Ashkenazi event.
I met one of the original organizers of the parade, which he helped start in 1965. He is now 94 years old and walked the entire route. He told me that for the first two years it was tough to draw marchers or spectators. However, in 1967 it was right before the Six-Day War. The outpouring of people who decided to come and march to show support was amazing. He said over 100,000 people came to march.
We should not need another crisis to come and show support. The crowd appeared bigger this year than in the past few years, but we need more. Unfortunately, the anti-Israel crowd was also larger than last year. The only “hats” I saw were those from the Neturei Karta who were protesting. I have heard reasons why the Yeshivish crowd does not come, including that it is wasting time that can be spent learning Torah, the crowd is not properly dressed, or there is an issue with the music. The Neturei Karta who came do not seem to have any problem. In any event, the reasons given by some is suspect when I see the same people at a Mets game at Citi Field or at similar outings.
When I marched and passed the anti-Israel crowd, which are mostly those with Palestinian flags and a few Neturei Karta, I ignored them. However, when I was on a side street near the end of the parade I saw a group of Neturei Karta and decided to walk over and talk to them. While I was walking over, a person whom I was with was so upset with the media filming the Neturei Karta that he got in their way. I had to pull him away so he would not get arrested. Another person was screaming at them, saying that she was a child of a Holocaust survivor and how can they protest. One of the chasidim responded, “So am I.” This is the typical response on both sides.
When I was on a side street near the end of the parade I saw a group of Neturei Karta and decided to walk over and talk to them
I started a conversation with one of them about Israel. He gave their position that there can be no state before the coming of the Messiah and how anti-religious the government is. I pointed out that there may be more learning today than at any time in the past 2,000 years in Israel. Also, we can go to the Kotel. The government might not be perfect as it relates to religious issues, but they have gotten much better recently. I asked him whether we would have had the same religious freedom if there was no Israel and another country was in charge. I mentioned Syria as an example. He did not deny that I was right and things would be worse and we may not have the benefits that I mentioned, but he thought it was irrelevant.
Then I asked how Neturei Karta can protest with those anti-Semites. They would kill him just as quickly as they would me. He did not dispute my opinion, but said that was why he was protesting at that location and not on the parade route with the other group.
We left it at that. Neither one convinced the other. However, listening to the other side helped me in fashioning a better response. It is easy to demonize those who we disagree with. This way we do not have to analyze and explain why we are right. Last week I wrote about how to change the view that has been creeping up in colleges and others on the left about Israel. Another way is to hear their arguments and think about a response instead of dismissing them out of hand as anti-Semites.
Everyone has the ability to be an advocate for Israel. Israel needs your support all year. Hopefully, by next year’s parade there will be a bigger and more diverse crowd showing support for the Jewish state, including some of those who avoided the parade because of political and/or religious reasons.
Warren S. Hecht is a local attorney. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org