Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Is the Salute to Israel Parade merely a school activity?

This coming Sunday is the annual Celebrate Israel Parade (formerly known as the Salute to Israel Parade), one of several ethnic-type parades that take place in New York City each year.  In general, the parade is a wonderful celebratory event, which thousands or marchers, floats, minor celebrities, politicians, and all the other hallmarks of large events in large cities.  The occasional politically-charged controversies, such as the annual appearance of about 15 virulently anti-Zionist Jews (who somehow always get picked up by the New York Times), are actually forgettable sideshows to what is overall a wonderful event.

I have been participating in the parade for most of the past 30 years, and I have recently noticed something that disturbs me far more than any controversy.  What has caught my attention of late is that the parade has largely turned into the world's largest Jewish day school event.  Just about any school that wants to maintain its bond fides as being Zionist sends a delegation to march, perhaps requiring all of its students to do so.  And, of course, most of those students have family members who come out to cheer from the sidelines, anxiously awaiting that one moment when their child walks by, resplendent in his or her special t-shirt and perhaps carrying a cardboard cutout of fruit or a harp or something else depicting his or her school's theme.  However, it often seems that there are very few people watching who do not have a carpool interest in the parade.

To the extent that we believe our own hype, this should trouble us as a community.  If we believe that the parade is our community's chance to demonstrate our pride in and connection to the State of Israel, then the fact that there are several city blocks along the parade route with almost no spectators should be seen as a disappointment at least and a communal failure at worst.  Especially given the fact that every other parade of this type brings out huge crowds, it is particularly glaring that our parade cannot do the same.

Perhaps this turnout issue is a case of one success feeding another failure.  On the one hand, be have been very successful in getting most schools in the area to be very active participants in the parade, and there is no doubt that the thousands upon thousands of students who march make the parade the wonderful event that it is.  However, as families "age out" of schools, they often feel that it is time to turn their focus and attention to other activities and other ways to spend their time.  If the Celebrate Israel parade is seen primarily as a school event, then it is one more thing to leave behind when your last child graduates high school.  I would suggest that it is important for those involved in planning the parade and our community leaders in general to foster the notion that this is an event that grows in impact as its numbers increase and that even if someone has no kids left in the school system, or if their kids have not gotten there yet, their support is vital to the overall success of the parade.

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