April 12, 2024
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Reflections on the 2023 Israel Day Parade

On Sunday, June, 4, I was one of thousands to attend the Israel Day Parade in New York City, which celebrated Israel’s 75th birthday. My husband and I drove up for the day from Baltimore. It was a day of exalted memory, worth the traffic and the hiked-up prices for parking.

The spirit at the parade was contagious; young and old, school and shul, Orthodox and secular, people across the metro New York area and nearby communities, all came to express their support of Israel. The excitement was enhanced because it was the first parade since the pandemic.

I came up to ride on the float sponsored by the Israel Discount Bank, The Shefa School and my organization, ACHI, American Communities Helping Israel. Suzanne Weilgus, the founder of ACHI, was the point person for ACHI and shared her expertise with the coordinator at the Bank, Karen Lichtfeld. Karen helped design two floats for the parade, one for the Bank and another for the three sponsoring organizations.

Suzanne worked with Karen in decisions about handing out swag, and quantities to order. The Bank handed out thousands of bags and T-shirts. The Tees said Let’s Celebrate Israel @75 Together – with the logo of all three organizations on the back. The bags were not empty. They carried information about each sponsor.

ACHI has designated 2023 as the Year of the KLEE, a plate or dish, designated to hold Israeli products. Their brochure inside the bag was a guide to making your own KLEE. ACHI’s motto is Think Israel–Buy Israeli, so the bag contained a cookbook, by Tnuva, a large Israeli dairy, with recipes that use their products. Tnuva proclaims, “Up Your Cheese Game.”

Elianna Mintz Perez, ACHI’s director of marketing and public relations, accompanied us, handing out swag to a crowd hungry for freebies. It was a family project, as her husband, Asher Perez, walked with her and their 13- month- old baby, who was able to sleep along the route. The Shefa School Assistant Headmaster Yoni Schwab guided his students to also deliver the bags.

The coming together of Israel Discount Bank; ACHI, an American based Israel advocacy group; and Shefa, a Jewish day school in Manhattan; were an unusual trio. In some ways, they symbolize who marched in the parade, businesses, not for profits and schools. Thousands of students marched, proudly wearing shirts of their respective schools.

I rode the float with Gloria Gordon, financial officer of ACHI, and her husband, Laurence; Suzanne Weilgus and her sister, Debbi Krantzow; as well as Shayna Kahn, long time friend of ACHI.

Shayna remembered coming to the parade as a child. She said she could now view it from an adult perspective and better understand how she was part of the nation of Israel. Shayna enjoyed bonding with the employees from the Israel Discount Bank on the float, telling them all about ACHI’s mission, which she described as “doing something bigger than yourself.”

Many of the ACHI members were unable to attend and watched the parade on media such as JBS (Jewish Broadcasting Services) and the Nachum Segal show. Tova Taragin of Baltimore reported, “It was exciting to see so many people march for Israel and to hear our float being announced on both shows. I kvelled.”

All of us on the float loved the enthusiasm of the large crowd. Many wore their own Israel type T-shirts, waved to us and smiled (oh, the power of a smile) and proudly waved their own Israeli flags. It was exhilarating. At a time, where Israel-bashing is the sport of the day, thousands were there to say, “We love Israel. Our love is unconditional, no matter the politics.”

By Marcia Wagner

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