Monday, June 3, 2013

Marching for Klal Yisrael

Perhaps I have been marching in this direction for a while, but today I attended my first Fifth Avenue “Salute to Israel” Day parade.

If today’s parade is reliable evidence, virtually all of the more Modern Orthodox leaning schools and institutions in the NY area proudly march up Fifth Avenue in support of Israel during this annual event.  Having gone to more “right-wing” schools and yeshivos growing up, this massive parade was not on the radar screen for me.  I did not know people who marched, did not associate much with those who might attend, and was never given information to believe that this was a worthwhile event.  It seemed like a place for the local politicians to demonstrate to gullible liberal Jews that by their attendance at this event they “proved” their love for Israel and Jews, and not something that made any real difference to anyone. 

I was wrong.  

I was privileged to attend the parade today with my daughter Diti, in the VIP section, as a guest of Jean and Eugen Gluck, wonderful members of our shul and prime supporters of the parade for the past twenty five years.  I had several thoughts at the parade that I thought were worth noting:

  • There was such a wonderful diversity in the crowd, which was marked by many very different groups – all joined together in support of Israel and in a friendly spirit.   All too often Jewish gatherings manage to highlight our differences; here, friendliness and brotherhood reigned supreme.  While a great many of the marchers, and the spectators, seemed to be from Modern Orthodox leaning circles, there were plenty of others as well.  There were Reform and Conservative groups, Federations, Zionist organizations, non-affiliated, and even plenty of non-Jewish groups.  Several of the marching bands were clearly not Jewish, nor were the Christians in support of Israel.  It was great to see so many thousands join together in support of the Jewish State and nation, when there is usually so much animosity directed toward us.  I am not sure what ultimate affect the parade has on the fortunes of Israel, but it was a magnificent and beautiful show of support and goodwill.

  • The energy of so many of the young people was exciting and palpable.   We always hear about how the youth are turned off to Judaism and are so rapidly losing their connection to all things Jewish.  The parade was a sign of great hope.  So many wonderful young men and women, marching, singing, dancing and cheering – proud to be Jewish and proud to demonstrate it.   The problems of alienation, assimilation, and intermarriage are far from being solved, of course.  But it was heartwarming and so encouraging to see this wonderful spirit on display.  Which brings me to my next point

  • I had the great privilege of watching the parade with several Holocaust survivors.  Watching Jean Gluck stand on her very painful feet – smiling, waving, handing out candy, and joyfully taking it all in for hours – was such an inspiration.  I could not help thinking that surely it crossed the mind of many survivors that they had participated in a parade of a very different sort almost seventy years ago – the infamous and horrible Death March through the forests of Europe.   One of the cruelest and most horrible things that the accursed Nazis, may they eternally rot in hell, made Jews endure was to force the weak, starving inmates – who they had worked to the bone –  to march in the freezing cold at a fast pace for many days in the freezing European winter, for no purpose at all, often on a purposely circuitous route to nowhere.   The camps were abandoned, the war lost; but rather than just letting them go, they forced these poor people on the terrible march where untold thousands who had made it through all the horrors of Auschwitz fell when they had no more strength to go on.  Elie Weisel’s harrowing account in “Night” of his father’s death on the march sticks in one’s mind forever as a symbol of the senseless barbaric cruelty that our people endured.

    And yet, there I sat with survivors of those marches, who took such solace in seeing thousands of free, strong, proud, committed young Jews marching with joy and abandon.   When I mentioned these thoughts to Sam Weisinger, he said, “No one who was not there could even begin to know what I am feeling today”.   What an incredible privilege to share a little bit of this with the precious survivors that we still have with us!

  • Unfortunately, there was a down side as well.   One looked far and wide for any participation from the Chareidi community – in vain.  With one glaring exception – the terrible Reshaim of Neurei Karta who seem to dedicate their lives to Chilul Hashem – the Chareidi community was absent.  As I mentioned earlier, this was my first parade, and thus I am no one to criticize others.   I only can feel pain and angst that the entire Jewish community can come together in joy and celebration and appreciation for the wonderful gift that is the State of Israel – except for the Chareidim. 

    I am well aware of all the arguments that they would present; all the imperfections of the State especially when it comes to Torah and religion, all of the people who left a Torah lifestyle to embrace secular Zionism, and all of the hard feelings that exist between the communities.  But those ought to be internal arguments.   As in the famous formulation of Rav Soloveichik zt”l, we are entitled to, and must uphold our principled positions and disagreements "כלפי פנים" when it is a matter of Torah importance.  However when we are dealing “כלפי חוץ”, in a Jewish stand vis a vis the outside world, we must stand together.   But that is a dream – one which it seems will have to wait for some future time.

Finally, in thinking about very large groups of Jews, my mind wandered back to an even larger, though less public, gathering less than a year ago – the magnificent Siyum HaShas at MetLife Stadium.   That evening was such a wonderful Kiddush Hashem, and created such good feeling amongst people, and motivated so many to dedicate themselves to Torah learning.  Although the crowd there was mostly Chareidi, a substantial number of non-Chareidi participated as well, as Jews came together to celebrate Torah. 

Unfortunately, however, the vast majority of the participants at one celebration were absent at the other.  

We look forward to a day when all of Klal Yisrael can gather together and celebrate, and on that great day the Lord will be One, and his Name will be One.

1 comment:

Dovid Teitelbaum said...

Enjoyed reading this very much. I couldn't make it there this year but I posted something about last years parade and what it meant for us. Why I Went to the Israeli Day Parade