Human Spirit: Marching for Zion
May 3, 2012
Sofer , THE JERUSALEM POST
Salute to Israel Parade on Fifth Avenue in New York has always held a
precious place in my heart.
The Salute to Israel Parade on Fifth Avenue in New York
has always held a precious place in my heart. When I was in high school
in the then farming town of Colchester, Connecticut, we would gather in
the early morning hours and board buses headed to New York City. With
many stops to pick up teens along the way, the ride took four hours. In
Manhattan waited a fascinating world I didn’t know about in Colchester.
Tens of thousands of teens like us, as well as adults, were standing up
for Israel. Some of my peers looked almost like soldiers in martial movement
uniforms. Other teens looked very sophisticated, wearing embroidered Israeli
blouses, twirling and debka dancing on float platforms, screaming and
hugging long-lost friends. It’s hard to evaluate the impact of participation
in the parade on my Zionist identity and decision to move to Israel. Certainly,
the parade provided an early taste of the sense of peoplehood that I have
savored living in Israel.
The germ of the Salute to Israel Parade – renamed last year the “Celebrate
Israel Parade” – was an impromptu walk down Riverside Drive in support
of the State of Israel in 1964. This evolved quickly into the nonpartisan,
apolitical Salute to Israel Parade. Today, 30,000 marchers representing
many organizations participate. Hundreds of thousands of spectators join
in to support the State of Israel and to celebrate its miraculous existence.
Even back when I was a teen, others were on hand to point out the imperfections
of the State of Israel to us marchers. Still others to wish us every evil.
Last week, I received an e-mail invitation to sign a petition relating
to the parade. Before I read it, the despised initials BDS caught my eye.
What could the relationship of the nefarious Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
movement be to the Zionist march? As it turns out, the petition was initiated
by a group called Committee for a Pro-Israel Parade. It urged the parade
organizers – the Jewish Community Relations Council – to boycott groups
that were connected to other groups that promote BDS.
A FEW words about boycotts. Anti-Jewish and anti-Israel boycotts have
a long and inglorious history. Some may be unaware of the disaster to
families wrought by boycotts of Jewish goods and businesses organized
by the Ku Klux Klan. Before the Final Solution, on April 1, 1933, the
Nazis carried out the first nationwide planned action against Jews: a
boycott targeting Jewish businesses and professionals. That evil boycott
was launched in a country in which Jews made up 1 percent of the population
and had earned 14 of Germany’s 38 Nobel prizes.
I'm not sure if my computer knows I’m particularly interested in Jewish
topics, but when I Google the words “boycott goods” with no mention of
“Jewish” or “Israeli,” I receive a mix of “boycott Israel goods” and “boycott
Jewish goods.” Not a single “boycott Syrian goods” pops up.
Anti-Jewish boycotts have always masqueraded behind ideological pretensions.
BDS is no different. The old and hollow “we’re not against Jews, just
Zionists” has yielded to “we’re not boycotting all Israelis, just certain
portions of the population.”
Previously proposed British academic and medical association boycotts
were aimed at all Israeli Jews. The latest boycott in England against
Israeli fruits and vegetables proffers the old libel of stolen land and
water, but according to today’s spin, it claims to discriminate only against
certain Israeli tomatoes. Look back at previous boycotts against our sweet
cherry tomatoes and persimmons, and you’ll find op-eds in major London
papers urging the ethically minded British to avoid Israeli produce to
punish the Jewish State where it hurts.
Anyone who has followed modern Israeli history knows that all sectors
and all parts of the country are targeted by our enemies. Whether you
are riding a bus on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv, visiting the doctor
in the Ashkelon mall or driving to a dance festival in Shiloh, you may
find yourself under attack. We’re all in this together, no matter what
our political opinions are. Likewise, wherever any Israeli stood on the
disengagement from Gaza, we know that our country alone has subjected
its own citizens to the trauma of forced transfer to try to bring about
All anti-Jewish and anti-Israel boycotts are despicable no matter who
is promoting them.
Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that far-left organizations, or far-right
for that matter, should be banished from the pro-Israel marches, no matter
how misguided each side finds the other’s views. No group gets a monopoly
on defining Zionism, or on setting the parameters of the ideological make-up
of the Jewish State. Among ourselves, we have so many areas about which
we passionately disagree, we’re lucky if we can get through an extended
family meal without an argument. In the heat of the battle, each of us
is scrambling to claim the moral high ground for our ideas. Without polling
opinions, we can be pretty sure that the vast majority of those indifferent
to or hostile to the State of Israel will not be spending their Sunday
marching down Fifth Avenue with blue-and-white flags.
ACCORDING TO recent surveys, the majority of Israeli Jews and Israeli
Arabs are proud to be Israelis, despite the broad arc of opinions we hold.
We need to welcome the same diversity in ideas from abroad. Anyone who
wishes – rain or shine – to march down Fifth Avenue on June 3 and declare
himself or herself a Zionist should be allowed to. The Celebrate Israel
Parade describes itself as the world’s largest public gathering honoring
the State of Israel. Wouldn’t it be great if 300,000 instead of 30,000
showed up – even if most of those marching don’t agree with you?
I was already living in Israel by the time I reconnected with the parade.
I’d gone for a semester to New York to study in the New School. I paid
for the room I’d rented in the home of an older Jewish lady with part-time
jobs, one of which was as a “parade consultant.” I visited synagogues
to help organize their marching delegations. Orthodox, Conservative and
Reform congregations were all taking part, overcoming the conflicts that
divided them to stand up together for Israel. On the day of the march,
walking with my young charges, I hoped that the experience would help
them decide to choose a lifetime lined up on the Zionist side of the street.