Religion & Beliefs

Why I Didn’t Go to this Year’s Israel Day Parade

A parade attendee (and performer) for eight consecutive years wonders why anyone bothers to show up to the annual exhibition of dancing schoolchildren Read More

By / June 7, 2012
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This past Sunday, I, along with thousands of other New York Jews, had brunch. Or ran errands. Or went for a bike ride. What most of us did not do was go to the Israel Day Parade.

The Jewish Week’s editor, Gary Rosenblatt, noticed that many of us were absent:

That said, it’s time for a serious communal conversation about the future of a parade that relies on the mandatory participation of thousands of day school and Hebrew school youngsters, and draws on their families as the core of the crowd. Without them the highly touted parade would be a modern-day display of the Emperor’s New Clothes: the naked fact is that the great majority of New York Jewry is nowhere to be found on the one day of the year we celebrate Israel together, even when the weather is as perfect as it was on Sunday (at least until the rains came in mid-afternoon).

From fifth through 12th grade, I was one of those schoolchildren. Even though attendance was compulsory, I actually had quite bit of fun trekking down Fifth Avenue in my school uniform (that part, wearing my uniform on a Sunday, was less fun) with my classmates, waving to the hordes of people that included my mother.

Yet even in the midst of my own enjoyment, I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone bothered showing up to watch this thing.

If you haven’t ever attended an Israel Day Parade, allow me to paint a word picture of what you, as a spectator, might see as the next school is announced: a misshapen mass of kids, some holding Israeli flags, others carrying art-project style banners and school signs. Some might be singing in or out of unison with their fellow students; others might be calling out to their parents behind the metal barricades. (I remember that it was fairly common for kids to leave their schools’ processions once they saw their parents and either go home with them or spend the rest of the parade sitting on the sidelines with them.)

Some schools do try to up the entertainment value with some choreography, but it is usually performed out of sync with the music and the other students. I can personally attest to how little effort we put into mastering the three moves the gym teacher tried to show us a few days before the march. We were a hot mess, turning the wrong way, bumping in each other, and otherwise bumbling our way down Fifth Avenue.

Parents and siblings frequently complain about having to endure badly performed school plays. Imagine if you were being forced to endure a hundred brief school plays in which you didn’t know any of the performers? Why would you choose to do that to yourself? (full disclosure: I actually like kids! I was one! I hope to have one! But I wouldn’t invite the entire Jewish community to her play.)

As it turns out, most of us do not. Not when we live in a city like New York, where we are well acquainted with quality live entertainment. There should be less excruciating ways to show my support for Israel than watching some other person’s kid trip his way down Fifth Avenue. I’d rather write a check to the New Israel Fund or attend a rally. Anything but go to an extended middle school talent show where I will be forced to say hi to every Jew I’ve ever met in my entire life.

Other groups’ parades are way better than ours. The West Indian Parade and festival are a big draw for New Yorkers of all stripes because you don’t have to be an insider to enjoy the proceedings. I do not possess an iota of West Indian blood but I can get into the food, the dazzling costumes, the fabulous live music and dancing.

The Israel Day Parade doesn’t have to be this way. After all, we are a people with a reputation for excelling in the arts. We should be able to put on a better show, one that others, not just mom and dad, would want to see.

(Image via Haaretz)

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