Well, yesterday was the annual Salute to Israel Parade, and it couldn't have been nicer. The weather was perfect, the crowd of spectators huge (and full up earlier than usual), and the marchers endless and enthusiastic. As I've done for the past eight years or so, I volunteered for the parade staff, and while things can always look hectic "backstage" (and boy, did they this year). I've gotten good reports from disinterested observers, and that's what counts. Even I, in the midst of directing groups and assisting announcers, enjoyed it immensely.
It was especially nice seeing my various "alma maters" on show. The New York Region of NCSY is now headed by an old talmid-chaver of mine who, draped in an Israeli flag, was enthusiastically leaping about with his kids, leading them in the old classic songs, and took a breather to inform me he had 250 kids from the region with him (in addition to everyone else from NCSY, Yachad, and the OU). Go (R') Zak!
YU had quite the impressive showing as well, heading up the last section of the parade. (It was well represented among the parade staff too.) Here it was especially nice to see Roshei Yeshiva marching with the students. After the parade was over, Richard Joel literally offered me the shirt off his back- and I do mean literally, actually pulling off his t-shirt and holding it out to me when I casually mentioned I'd been hoping for one. I couldn't accept it, of course, but he's a wonderful person. (This was also in evidence at the YU graduation two weeks back, at which my father celebrated his fiftieth anniversary. I'll have to post some photos of that.)
Ah, and much, much more- lots of big names, celebrities, new and colorful groups, familiar faces...I'll have to review my photos to see what else merits mentioning and, hopefully, post some here. And I see that the UK is planning its own parades for later this month- Kol HaKavod!
Anyway, if its not too much out of place, I have two more significant (a bit half-baked, but this is a blog, after all) thoughts about the parade:
On the way home, I got on the bus to Kew Gardens Hills with a bunch of people who'd been to the parade as well. One man said to another, "Why this type of unity only once a year?" Indeed, the display of achdut is extremely impressive. (As I like to joke, even the Neturei Karta come out, in their own way, much as they'd deny it.) You've got a huge spectrum, even the occasional black hat and chassid (and not just as spectators). Later last night, a friend asked me, "Did the gays march?" I thought for a moment before answering- I guess they may march as part of the "Downtown Alliance"- but told him that shortly after the original brouhaha over their inclusion (or exclusion), I recall that there was some serious problem in Israel- the outbreak of the second intifada or something- and people quickly wised up to what's important, at least in this context. There've been no issues since then. Everyone comes, everyone supports Israel, another generation feels for it and supports it (and in today's age, that's a big deal, considering the growing popularity of the alternative among young Jews, but a brief conversation today has given me hope there as well), and not-insignificant numbers even move there.
So that's one lovely aspect of the parade. I've long said that after seeing it in action, it becomes very hard to maintain the old "Forbidden to cooperate with non-Orthodox Jews!" trope one hears from the right. Well, maybe that's just the softie in me speaking, but we all need that feeling at least once a year.
The second thought is, I'm afraid, somewhat more parochial than the previous grander one, but it has to be said: All of the fears and griping about Orthodoxy's "turn to the right" or the growing dominance of the Haredi world is at least somewhat dissipated after observing this parade. From the New York area alone, there are quite a few day schools and high schools that I've never even heard of whose students turn out for the parade in the hundreds. And there are many more I know of whose sheer size is overwhelming. I can't play numbers games or anything like that, but one thing I see here (as a subset of the parade as a whole, of course) is a vibrant, growing Modern Orthodoxy. Ken Yirbu.
Anyway, this Jew is, in fact, off to Israel later this week. I should have a great time- lots of things coming up in only a short period- and will report as possible. Till then!