Israel Day on Fifth

Annual Israel parade in NYC to take on respectful, dignified tone to reflect somber mood

Focus of this year’s event will be solidarity Israel; relatives of hostages slated to attend.

Since 1965, even before the surge of Jewish pride that followed the Six-Day War, the annual parade in support of Israel that takes place along Fifth Avenue in New York has been a festive day filled with dancing and singing. But this year, with Israel at war in Gaza and more than 100 hostages still in Hamas captivity, tens of thousands of marchers and many more flag-wavers and placard-carriers lining the street will be stressing a specific message, one that has echoed over the last eight months from Hostages Square in Tel Aviv to the halls of Congress to the sidewalks of New York: “Bring Them Home.”

Sunday’s parade will be held along its usual route  — Fifth Avenue from 57th Street to 73rd Street — but it will look and feel different in several ways: It has a new name, omitting the word “celebrate” from the old one; it will take place under unprecedented security measures, given the rise in antisemitism in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks and and the ensuing war against Hamas, according to security experts; and many participants in a new survey report that they are “very concerned” about their safety.

The focus in this fraught year will be solemn — solidarity with Israel, according to the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the group behind the event. Families of Oct. 7 victims and hostages will have a notable presence at the parade. Orna and Ronen Neutra, the parents of Omer Neutra, a lone soldier from Long Island who is being held hostage by Hamas, are expected to attend, as well as Tomer Zak, a resident of Kibbutz Kissufim whose parents and younger brother were murdered on Oct. 7. 

As a result of the heavy mood, the “Celebrate Israel Parade” will now be called “Israel Day on Fifth,” “to emphasize in a respectful and dignified manner, that this year is different, but that our passion for Israel remains stronger than ever before,” said Howard Pollack, JCRCNY’s parade director. 

As anti-Israel protests and violent acts of antisemitism have soared in New York City since Oct. 7, Mitchell Silber, executive director of the Community Security Initiative, said that parade-goers should expect “unprecedented security coordination and efforts by the New York Police Department and the office of Mayor Eric Adams to make sure this parade comes off as a success and is safe and not disrupted by protest activity.”  

Silber said the run-up to this year’s event included “serious discussions about where it should be, what format it should be, what the tone should be and taking all of the security considerations into play.”

CSI has organized security for a number of pro-Israel events around the city since Oct. 7. But Silber emphasized that those “were all stationary rallies, there was a stage and people were fenced in or out.” 

The parade poses unique security challenges because it’s an event that extends nearly 20 blocks, Silber said, adding that another major difference this year includes shutting off access to Fifth Avenue from Central Park, which means there will be no spectators west of Fifth Avenue.  “That was a go-no-go ask,” Silber said. “If we didn’t get that we weren’t sure we could have the parade.” 

Several groups are planning to attend that have not in the past. In total, 63 schools are slated to march. UJA-Federation of New York, the largest funder of the parade, is subsidizing 12 buses, two more than the previous year, to bring marchers from synagogues and five Jewish Community Centers on Long Island. Twenty-eight synagogues from Long Island are expected to participate, six more than last year, including some that have never marched before. The parade’s grand marshal will be Harley Lippman, CEO of outsourcing firm Genesis10. Lippman helped advance the normalization between Israel and some Arab nations through the Abraham Accords. 

Ofir Akunis, who began his role as consul general of Israel in New York earlier this month, is among the Israeli dignitaries expected to march. A JCRC spokesperson said that the lineup of New York state and city elected officials has not yet been finalized —  but said that a sizable turnout is to be expected. 

Silber emphasized that the organizers have tried to stay with tradition as much as possible. 

“Given what happened on Oct. 7 and everything since, it’s important to the community to have an event that looks and feels [normal],” he said.