Hostages in Their Hearts, Israel’s Supporters Flood Fifth Avenue at Annual Parade


IMG_7828(Sandy Eller – VINnews)

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Those three words echoed up and down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue for hours today as tens of thousands converged on Midtown to show their support for Israel during the annual Celebrate Israel parade.

It would be an understatement to say that security was tight for the parade, with the NYPD emphatically reiterating its insistence that the parade would go on as planned, with strict safety precautions in place. Sanitation trucks were stationed on Madison Avenue parallel to the parade route, blocking off side streets, as spectators went through airport style security in order to gain admittance. Excepting a bandstand that extended for a few blocks alongside Central Park, spectators were limited to the east side of Fifth Avenue, with a second set of barriers creating a buffer zone between them and marchers.

Helicopters buzzed overhead amid cloudy skies, making their presence known even when they couldn’t be seen, and multiple members of law enforcement could be found on every block in the parade zone. A long list of items banned from the nearly one mile long parade route included drones, backpacks, umbrellas, large bags, folding chairs, coolers and large flags or banners that could obstruct views of both spectators and police.

But it would be an even greater understatement to say that Fifth Avenue was an ocean of solidarity for the parade, rebranded this year as Israel Day on 5th. Support for Israel, for hostages and their families, and for Jews all over the world was literally everywhere, overflowing the streets and sidewalks in and around the parade area, with marchers lining up on numerous side streets, and vendors selling small Israeli and American flags along Madison Avenue. While the official theme of the parade was “One People, One Heart,” the most commonly heard sentiment was “Bring Them Home,” a message that was also repeated by marchers in Hebrew as “achshav et kulam” – all of them now – and a sign in Yiddish on the parade route read “bring zay shoyn ahaym” – bring them home now.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, which organized the parade, estimated that 45,000 people in attendance

100 year old Ted Comet, who founded the parade in 1965, served as the day’s honorary grand marshal. Accompanied by several teenage family members, including a great-grandson and a great-nephew, Comet waved at spectators as he made his way up Fifth Avenue in the official parade car, a 1963 Lincoln Continental convertible. Having the parade during a time like this was especially poignant for Comet, who recalled there was no platform for people to express their unity and support of the Jewish nation when the horrors of the Holocaust became known.

“When I started in 65, Israel was hardly visible and now look at this – this is a testimony to people who care,” Comet told VIN News. “People are blaming Israel for the deaths in Gaza but I don’t hear them blaming Hamas. Hamas could resolve this one-two-three, and nobody is blaming them.”

The sign Margot Lowy carried during the parade held a picture of one of the American hostages still being held by Hamas. She said that she believes that the younger generation needs to start learning from history instead of getting its information from social media.

“The problem is that America is a civilized nation and we’re trying to get our hostages back form barbarians, and how do you negotiate with barbarians?” observed Lowy.

The world would do well to realize that Hamas and Iran will set their sights on the rest of the civilized world, should it succeed on wiping Israel off the map, said Lowy, who categorized attempts by Qatar to broker a deal between Israel and Hamas as a sham.

“The Qataris are very smart and we have been played,” said Lowy.

Ruby Chen and his wife Hagit both held signs bearing pictures of their son Itay, who was taken hostage on October 7th. While Ruby Chen’s sign listed Itay’s age as 19, it had originally appeared as 20 on Hagit Chen’s sign, which had obviously been printed after Itay’s birthday had passed. With the Chens receiving word of their son’s death in March, Itay’s age was corrected to 19 on the newer signs, a heartbreaking reminder that he would remain forever a teenager.

“We need to see justice,” said Ruby Chen, who was born and bred in Flatbush. “We expect the United States government to get a deal done where the minimum that will happen is for me to sit shiva, and until he is back, we cannot sit shiva. This is what I said to the president when he called to give his condolences, as well as to the vice president and secretary of state – [make a ] request from the United States to bring back my kid so we can sit a shiva and be able to mourn for my kid.”

Believing that the United States is doing the best it can to bring its citizens home, Ruby Chen called on the Israeli government to step up its efforts, with additional pressure placed on Qatar and Egypt to make a hostage deal happen.

United Hatzalah founder Eli Beer rolled up and down the parade route on a segway, soaking up some much-needed positive energy after the intensity of the last 240 days.

“After eight months of fighting in Israel and seeing Simchas Torah, October 7th, I came to New York and to Fifth Avene to get chizuk from Am Yisrael who live here in the diaspora,” said Beer, whose orange yarmulka and glasses matched his United Hatzalah vest. “I’m going to show everyone how much Am Yisrael is together, yachad. We are not only Am Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel, we are Am Yisroel all over the world from Australia to Mexico, and of course, New York is the Center.”

Upper East Side resident Elizabeth Sutton was one of many people who wore their hearts on their sleeves, quite literally. Clad in an Israeli flag skirt and a denim jacket emblazoned with an Israeli flag made up of blue and white rhinestones, Sutton has been an outspoken advocate for Israel who raised over $300,000 for Israel, run multiple missions to Israel and done art therapy in Israel with highly traumatized individuals. Her support for Israel has had repercussions for Sutton, proprietor of the Elizabeth Sutton Collection.

“I’ve lost 12 business contracts due to my advocacy,” said Sutton, who was accompanied by her seven and nine year old children Nora and Mira, as she made her way up Fifth Avenue. “But the right things are going to come in, because we are working with the people we are supposed to be working with. It is so much joy and pride to be part of Am Yisrael, the most resilient nation in the world.”

Despite the many security concerns, the parade was peaceful, in addition to being joyous and proud, although it had an understandably somber tone given the realities in Israel. At some points along the route, the security fence on the west side of Fifth Avenue was dotted with pictures of hostages who are still being held in captivity, a stark reminder that the horrors of October 7th are far from over. A marching group dressed in black t-shirts bearing the words “Bring them home” was so large, it filled more than three city blocks.

Calling Israel the United States’ closest ally in the world, Congressman Mike Lawler emphasized the importance of standing strong with Israel.

“For those who are demanding a cease fire, the fastest way for it to occur is for Hamas to surrender and release the hostages,” said Lawler. “Anything less than that is a shanda.”

13 year old Jacob Mantell of Cedarhurst marched with his school, Yavneh Academy. He found the parade to be spiritually uplifting and a not-to-be-missed experience. For his 12 year old sister, Ayelet Faska, the sense of community and unity were the highlight of the parade.

Those thoughts were echoed by paradegoer Nate Shmushkin who responded very simply when asked to share his thoughts of Israel Day on 5th.

“I have three words,” said Shmushkin. “Bring them home.”

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