Show Your Support For Israel At Parade And Ensuing Concert

The potential for a rainy Sunday has not dampened the excitement of the upcoming Celebrate Israel Parade that is the largest Jewish gathering outside of Israel. This year’s theme, “Only in Israel,” encourages the 250 participating organizations to design their banners and floats to highlight the unique aspects of the Jewish state. Its name is taken from an Israeli song authored by Ehud Manor with music by Nurit Hirsch.

But where the song speaks of kibbutzim and sweet oranges, one can also celebrate today’s skyscrapers and technological exports. Still, the pride in volunteering and military service hasn’t diminished, and many American Jews who have contemplated aliyah or simply sought a personal connection to Israel, have given their time to being there to build up the country.

The grand marshal this year is Edward Mermelstein, an example of a Russian Jew who did well in his adopted country. After emigrating here from Ukraine in 1976, he rose to success as a corporate and real estate attorney, founding One & Only Realty and the firm Rheem Bell & Mermelstein. Among his philanthropic projects is ZAKA, the famed Israeli rescue and recovery nonprofit that trains thousands of volunteers worldwide in natural and manmade disasters.

Last October, he was appointed as president of ZAKA Search and Rescue in the USA, in the presence of ZAKA founder Yehuda Meshi-Zahav and Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon. “In today’s world, where natural and manmade disasters can overwhelm local emergency forces by their inordinate scope, communities deserve to receive the right training and tools necessary to save lives,” Mermelstein said at the time. “The importance of local teams rescuing survivors in their own region is essential, and this is precisely the solution that ZAKA Search and Rescue will offer to communities throughout the United States and around the globe.”

Alongside ZAKA, he also is the Chairman of COJECO, which represents Russian Jewish nonprofits in the New York Area, and previously served on the boards of the UJA, and the RAJE kiruv organization. “As an immigrant New Yorker and a proud Jew, walking up Fifth Avenue as the grand marshal of the Celebrate Israel Parade is the pinnacle of the American dream,” Mermelstein said. “I am so proud to stand with Israel.”

The parade is produced by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY), in cooperation with UJA-Federation of New York and the Consulate General of Israel in New York. As it is every year, the parade is expected to have some of New York’s leading political figures, Knesset members, cultural figures, and international supporters in attendance. But equally important is the turnout that represents grassroots support for Israel in synagogues, community centers, schools, and from each individual.

How many of us speak of supporting Israel but feel frustrated at the undeserved attention of anti-Zionist demonstrators and BDS supporters that make the news for simply showing up and being visible? They do so in the form of street protests, public events, and social media. How can we say that they do not represent American Jewry from a keyboard? This parade offers the opportunity to be visible and show strength in our numbers.

As it is with political opponents of Israel, the same can be said of those who avoid the parade on religious grounds, who appear in news stories with their own public rallies. Their arguments against Jewish sovereignty rely on the past, when Zionists sought to make the Jewish nation as an equal among nations. After 71 years, most Israelis recognize that Israel is a nation that dwells alone. In a positive way, it stands apart in its social and technological innovations. That it is singled out at international forums for actual and perceived violations of human rights also demonstrates that the Jewish state hasn’t reached equal footing with the rest of the world’s countries.

There was a time when Israel was inspired by secular and socialist policies that presumed the eventual disappearance of Orthodox Judaism and its centuries-old customs and habits. Likewise those who supported Revisionist Zionism were blackballed from work opportunities by public agencies and labor unions. As the most recent Israeli election proved, even those running against incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak in the memory of Trumpeldor, Jabotinsky, and Begin. Their vision of a capitalist and militarily strong state is firmly cemented into the Israeli psyche. Revisionism could not succeed without the support of religious parties, reliable coalition partners that have ensured the blossoming of Torah learning in the land, along with the expansion of Jewish settlements, and laws to secure the Jewish character of Israeli society.

In recent years, religious opponents of the parade have spoken of the presence of non-Orthodox groups whose beliefs and lifestyles are anathema to Orthodoxy, with participation in the march as tantamount to tacit support. One can learn a better example of maintaining values while participating from the Shalva Band at the Eurovision festival earlier this month in Tel Aviv. On account of the Shabbos observance of some of its members, the entire group forfeited its chance at the prize, as it involved performing on the holy day of rest. They performed in the semi-finals with “A Million Dreams.” Comprised of disabled individuals, the group, which represents the inclusivity of Israel, has since received invitations to sing in many corners of the world

To participate in the parade, organizations pay substantial registration fees and devote months of effort and materials for their banners, floats, and uniforms. To stand on the sidelines only carries the cost of traveling to Manhattan, but it makes a difference in demonstrating support.

Following the parade, supporters of Israel can also attend the “Concert with a Message” in Central Park, founded by Carl and Sylvia Freyer, and organized by Queens Jewish Link columnist Dr. Joseph Frager and his wife Karen. Among the many co-sponsoring individuals and organizations of this concert are the National Council of Young Israel, Rabbinical Alliance of America, and the Zionist Organization of America. The headliners this year are Shloime Dachs, Simcha Leiner, and Shulem Lemmer, among other well-known Orthodox performers.

Dr. Frager has a talent in finding supporters for the concert who sometimes end up in influential positions, to the benefit of Israel. Some of us remember when John Bolton spoke on this stage of his support for Israel as a past US Ambassador to the UN. Now he is a top adviser to President Donald Trump. Danny Danon spoke here as a Knesset member and will do so this year as the Israel’s top voice at the UN. Although Scott Walker lost his bid last year for a third term as Wisconsin governor, he remains a leading pro-Israel advocate in the Republican Party and may yet return to elected office, depending partly on whether the president will succeed in his own reelection next year.

Many of the speakers have taken Dr. Frager’s tours of Israel, seeing firsthand the development of the Jewish state and the damage caused by rockets, stabbings, and suicide bombings. Fox News Channel host Pete Hegseth and philanthropist Ken Abramowitz are among those expected to speak at the concert who have toured Israel on multiple occasions with Dr. Frager.

The parade and concert provide the best opportunity for New Yorkers to visibly show support for Israel here. One notable exception this year are Queens Jewish Link co-publisher Yaakov Serle and his wife Atara. They will not be at either event as they will be in Israel to meet their newborn grandchild. When it comes to personal dedication towards Jewish life in Israel, there’s no better excuse for not being on Fifth Avenue this Sunday.

 By Sergey Kadinsky