Down fifth avenue

Celebrations muted, but passion still strong as New Yorkers march in Israel Day Parade

Organizers change name of event from 'Celebrate Israel Parade' to 'Israel Day on Fifth' to mark more somber spirit of the event in light of ongoing war, Israeli captives

As tens of thousands of Israel supporters dressed in blue and white danced in the New York streets on Sunday afternoon — and thousands more waved Israeli flags on parade floats, together singing “Am Yisrael Chai” — the annual parade and show of Jewish pride that takes place along Fifth Avenue seemed typical at first glance. 

But this year, at the normally festive parade, reminders were everywhere that Israel is at war in Gaza and more than 100 hostages are still in Hamas captivity. 

From 57th Street to 73rd Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, fliers featuring photographs of the hostages and the words “kidnapped by Hamas” lined Fifth Avenue. Hundreds of marchers, including the families of hostages who flew in from Israel — including Noam Safir, 20, whose grandfather, Shlomo Mantzur, is one of the hostages — sported T-shirts that read: “Bring them home,” while chanting those words.

Security was heavy, with police helicopters and drones buzzing overhead as police dogs and hundreds of officers patrolled the area. The name of this year’s parade reflected a more somber tone: the “Celebrate Israel Parade” was now “Israel Day on Fifth.” This was meant “to emphasize in a respectful and dignified manner, that this year is different, but that our passion for Israel remains stronger than ever before,” Howard Pollack, Jewish Community Relations Council of New York’s parade director, told eJewishPhilanthropy.  

Still, the day was peaceful, with relatively few protesters holding anti-Israel signs and Palestinian flags on the sidelines. “The vibes were so positive, with everyone singing, dancing and jumping,” said Emily Austin, 23, a social media influencer who marched on the Israeli Consulate in New York’s float. Austin, who has been attending the parade since she was in high school, noted that this year’s turnout felt smaller. “I wasn’t expecting today to be so positive and uplifting,” she continued, noting that other attendees warned the day may be more “chill and depressing.” “But it wasn’t and I think everyone needed the positivity,” she said. 

Several groups attended that have not in the past. In total, 63 Jewish day schools and yeshivas marched. UJA-Federation of New York, the largest funder of the parade, subsidized 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 participated, six more than last year, including some that have never marched before. The parade’s grand marshal was Harley Lippman, CEO of outsourcing firm Genesis10.  

A number of New York state and city elected officials marched alongside the estimated 100,000 marchers — all of whom needed credentials to participate — including Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams. “Our message is extremely clear: destroy Hamas, bring home the hostages,” Adams said at the parade. “Let’s bring peace so we don’t lose the lives of innocent people…  Today you’re seeing solidarity. The loudest is not the majority in the city.” 

New York Democratic Reps. Tom Suozzi, Ritchie Torres, Grace Meng, Dan Goldman and Jerry Nadler hosted a joint press conference ahead of the parade to call for the release of hostages in Hamas captivity, alongside Ronen and Orna Neutra, the parents of American hostage Omer Neutra and the family of U.S.-Israeli citizen Itay Chen, who was killed in the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks. 

A group of Israeli dignitaries also marched, including Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, and Ofir Akunis, who began his role as consul general of Israel in New York earlier this month. Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli, who made waves at last year’s parade by appearing to make an obscene gesture at protesters against the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul, also appeared at the parade. Some Israelis living in the New York area protested the inclusion of these Israeli officials, citing the government’s failures on and after Oct. 7.

Also seen singing and dancing on a float was Israeli singer Eden Golan, who represented Israel in Eurovision last month. 

Former Prime Minister of Israel Naftali Bennett marched alongside United Hatzalah as a tribute to the Israeli volunteer-based emergency medical services organization’s life-saving work on Oct. 7, he said. “It was amazing seeing him speak to our marchers. The energy was so high,” Jeremy Cole, a United Hatzalah spokesperson, said. Later, Bennett marched with Hillel of Staten Island students. 

Still, there was one notable moment of tension between participants and politicians. At the start of the parade, when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) began to speak, several people booed and at least one person shouted “you betrayed us,” a reference to Schumer’s sharp criticism of the Israeli government, particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a Senate speech in March.

Rivkah Fox, who leads the Jewish student group Meor at University of Pennsylvania, with her husband, Rabbi Rick Fox, came to New York from Philadelphia to attend the parade, alongside several of her students. Fox, who was visiting Israel when Hamas infiltrated Israel on Oct. 7, said that Sunday was “the closest I’ve felt since to being joined together with all of my Jewish brothers and sisters,” she said, describing the day as a “feeling of so much Jewish pride.” “Walking down Madison Ave. and seeing Jews of every different color, stripe, wearing their tzitzit out or holding Israeli flags — it felt like I was back in Israel,” Fox said. “There was so much unity.”