From Our CEO
One People, One Heart
May 31st, 2024

Since 1965, there’s always one Sunday in June when the streets of New York turn blue and white for a parade in celebration of Israel. Apart from the pandemic years, these parades have gone on rain or shine, with boisterous music and dancing, beachballs and pom-poms lending a sense of unabashed joy to the day.

This year will be different.

We’re nearing eight months of war. The number of Israeli soldiers killed in battle continues to rise. Over 120 hostages are still not home. Israel is increasingly isolated on the world stage, subjected to an unjust demonization that directly impacts the entirety of the Jewish people. And our belief in the sanctity of human life — what inherently sets us apart from the Hamas terrorists — makes us grieve the loss of all innocent lives.

For these reasons, this year, more than any other, we need this Sunday's gathering. Not a traditional parade, but a way for the largest Jewish community in the world to show up for Israel.

The focus of the march up Fifth Avenue — long called the “Celebrate Israel Parade,” and this year, “Israel Day on 5th” — will be solidarity, the plight of the hostages, and the devastation of Israel’s southern border communities.

To underscore this message, UJA has brought a large group from Israel to march with us, including individuals whose family members are being held hostage and survivors from decimated southern communities, like Be’eri, Kfar Aza, Holit, and Nir Oz.

Some were orphaned, some have children still being held in Gaza, some had their homes burned to the ground. Today, I met with many of them to hear their stories. One father shared that his daughter, Roni, a soldier stationed at the Nahal Oz military base, was murdered on October 7. He asked for our help printing a large posterboard photo of his daughter to carry with him up Fifth Avenue.

UJA’s delegation Sunday will also feature Eden Golan, Israel’s representative to this year's Eurovision song contest, currently in New York to receive United Hatzalah's Hero Award. Eden bravely endured virulent antisemitism and intense hostility earlier this month while competing in Malmo, Sweden.

The theme for Israel Day on Fifth is “One People, One Heart.” Of course, we know that the Jewish community is, and always has been, painfully divided on many issues, including those around Israel. We have differing opinions about Israel’s governing coalition, differing points of view on the way forward. But on this one day, all that needs to be put aside.

Why? Because since October 7, even American Jews who may never have thought of Israel as especially relevant to their lives woke up to the realization that what happens in the Jewish State affects us all. And the antisemitic reverberations reinforced the incredible importance of a Jewish homeland for all Jews. We carry many of the same burdens — and many of the same blessings.

And so the message we need to carry up Fifth Avenue is this:

The Jewish people are here for the Jewish State. The Jewish State is here for the Jewish people. There is not one without the other; we are wholly interconnected.

Which is why we also need to engage in the hard work of ensuring that Israel will forever be a Jewish and democratic state.

A final note of inspiration: The honorary grand marshal this year is Ted Comet, who co-founded the parade and turned 100 years old last week.

Ted’s life mirrors the sweeping arc of modern Jewish history, from darkness to renewal. In 1946, Ted volunteered in France with orphaned Jewish children, befriending a young Elie Wiesel. He organized marches on behalf of Soviet Jewry in the 1960s. In 1965, he created this parade to mark the miracle of the modern State of Israel right in the heart of New York City. 

And right now, though we’re in another period of darkness, renewal awaits.

With Ted’s life reminding us of what’s possible, we march for Israel. And we march for ourselves. 

Shabbat shalom

P.S. Security will be tighter than in years past, so for those joining as spectators, please read the instructions carefully.