The Israel we support

As a spectator, you see the entire parade, or at least as much of it as you wish to take in. In some ways, it's not that different than any other parade. There are floats, high school bands, and people throwing give-aways into the crowd. Of course, in other ways it's completely unlike any other parade. A sea of people throng Fifth Avenue waving blue and white flags. Everyone seems to be Jewish - except maybe the "Native Americans for Israel" group that I spied one year - and you can't help but run into someone you know from someplace else. There are Jews of all sorts present, from the unfortunate Naturei Karta, who don't believe Israel should exist and who stand in solidarity with the Palestinians at the Plaza fountain at 59th Street; to the day school and yeshivot groups from across the New York area and beyond, brimming with Jewish pride; to the veteran groups who have fought for this country and for Israel; to the more unusual bunches like the Harley riders revving their bikes for Israel. It's a lot of fun cheering each group on, listening to the various performers singing from the floats sponsored by the larger Jewish organizations. It's a day when it feels great to be a Jew.

And then there's marching. To participate in the parade is another experience altogether. You don't get the scope of what's going on in the parade, since you're surrounded only by your chevra. Rockland's group, organized by the Jewish Federation of Rockland County, is sizeable. We bring more than 400 people, representing 12 synagogues, JCC Rockland, Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School, and of course, the Federation itself.

But when you're right down in the mix, you can't see the variety of the groups marching by. You don't feel the crush of people pressing up against the barricades lining the avenue. Nonetheless, marching up Fifth has its own zeitgeist - what with the matching T-shirts and the bus trip down with your tribe and the multiple sun block applications. There's the sweaty, tired schlep back to Rockland and the barbecue at the end. And in between, you feel part of something very large. What must it look like from Google earth, all those people marching uptown, with one purpose in mind, to support Israel?

Like almost everything about Israel, it seems to have a duality: watching or participating: diaspora or resident, religious or secular, Zionist or not. For each of us holds a different picture of Israel in our mind. Which one do you see when you close your eyes?

Is it the modern-day high tech Tel Aviv, with its glass towers and high-tech industries? Is it the burnished stone of Jerusalem? Is something from the past -the kibbutznik, wearing those very short shorts and a funny, upside-down sailor hat, holding an orange high into the travel poster-blue sky?

Is it of Sderot, its population shell-shocked, its buildings crumbling from the constant barrage of Qassam rockets? Is it the handshake at Camp David, where Yitzhak Rabin hesitantly grasped Yasser Arafat's extended hand, a handshake that led to two intifadas, dead-end roadmaps and a peace process with, as yet, no real peace in sight? Is it all of the above?

My first cogent memory of Israel, unfortunately, isn't a happy one. It's of going to synagogue on Yom Kippur in 1973. We were not an observant community, so many had heard the news already: Egypt and Syria had led a surprise attack against Israel on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

The grownups were, understandably, very upset. A hum of concerned chatter buzzed beneath the goings on of the service. How could they? On Yom Kippur? It was unthinkable. I knew that something very bad had happened, but only grasped this in a child's way.

For my husband, the memory he holds of Israel is one of planes zipping across the black-and-white television screen during the Six Day War, the modern-day equivalent of David slaying Goliath. For one tiny nation to stand against all its enemies and to serve them an unequivocal defeat showed the world that the Jews weren't going to roll over and play dead again.

Each of us holds a different Israel in our hearts. For this issue of the Rockland Jewish Reporter, we asked those whose memories stretch back 60 years, to the beginning, to share with us. There are not that many left who really do recall what the world was like without an Israel. I feel honored that they let us tell their stories.

The Israeli flag flies alongside the American one in front of the building here. I walk beneath the two each day. I am thoroughly American. I don't picture myself making aliyah to Israel. But that blue and white flag - @hadegel sheli,@ as the song goes, "my flag" - stirs something deep within me that the American flag does not, and I am hard pressed to explain it.

This year, when we march together on June 1, leaving from the Rockland Jewish Community Campus, we do so celebrating Israel's 60th year. In the past, I've marched with my shul. But this year, my family, as we Jews are wont to do, has fractured and dissented a little - in a good way. My son might march with his school since it's his graduation year. My daughter wants to go with her friends from shul. I figure I'll head out with my coworkers from the Federation. And I'm not sure what my husband wants to do. Really, it's only the color of your T-shirt that changes.

We're all starting from the same place. And we're all going to end up back there in the end. So it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that we're marching together, supporting Israel, both spectator and marcher, with one voice. Please join us.

Marla Cohen is editor of the Rockland Jewish Reporter. You can reach her at


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