Make Aliyah, Not Parades
I am actively opposed to the Salute to Israel Parade.
There, I've said it.
Now, I'm not trying to start trouble, nor am I an anti-Zionist. But every year, when June rolls around and the buzz for the parade begins to grow, with ads appearing in Jewish periodicals and announcements being made by Jewish organizations, my usual warm 'n fuzzy self begins to fade and I feel my ire start to pique.
I do not like this parade one bit. There are two reasons for this.
First, it is wrong to fly the flag of a sovereign nation on United States soil. Let me say that again: It is wrong to fly the flag of any country other than the U.S. here in the U.S. State flags are fine; so are the flags of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and even the little-known Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The flag of an organization or trade group may fly with pride anywhere in our land. So may the ubiquitous black flag proclaiming allegiance to American soldiers supposedly Missing-in-Action.
But not the Israeli flag, not the Czech flag, not the Australian flag, not even the Canadian flag should fly in front of one's home or inside one's synagogue.
These United States of America have been a land of religious freedom, a haven for many Jews for centuries, and home for many Jews today. The same is true of all immigrant groups. No, this country doesn't have a perfect record in accepting immigrants, both before and after they land on these shores, but the U.S. has the best record of any nation in the history of mankind when it comes to accepting foreigners.
Jews, who adhere to Jewish standards, must respect the blessing they have received in being allowed to be a part of this great country, and it is a slap in the face to this country—and a chillul Hashem to boot—to wave the flag of another. Root for Israel in the Olympics if you so desire. Dye your hair blue and white. But the flag you wave in public better be the Star Spangled Banner.
Don't misunderstand—I'm not saying it's illegal to do so; I'm not even saying that it should be illegal. I'm just saying that it's wrong.
I used to work on Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan and often I would work on Sundays. It seemed that every weekend there was another parade. One Sunday, I was trying to get to my office and I had to wade through the crowd assembled along the sidewalk for the Polish Day Parade. Throngs of young Poles, presumably Polish-Americans, were waving the Polish flag and screaming "Polska!" at one another.
And what did I, a man with nary a xenophobic sinew in his system, say to myself? "If you love Poland so much, why don't you go back?!"
Because, dear friends, they don't love Poland. They love Polish culture; they love the stories their grandmothers tell; they love the nostalgia. They, too, may even root for Poland in the Olympics. But the political entity of Poland they don't love as much as that of the United States. That's why they are here and not there.
And that's why you are here.
Which brings me to my second point: The Salute to Israel Parade is an exercise in intellectual dishonesty.
Can someone really claim to be "supporting" Israel by marching in Central Park? Does wearing a t-shirt and carrying a banner fulfill the mitzvah of making Aliyah?
Proponents argue that the parade shows our support for Israel and shows the world that the Jewish State is not the monster that many in the foreign media portray her to be. I find this argument weak. If AIPAC, the O.U., Agudath Israel, and CAMERA can't do that job effectively, I really can't see how hanging out in Central Park is going to do it.
And I don't thnk I'm alone. I have a sneaking suspicion that Ariel Sharon, sitting in his Knesset office, watching footage of the parade on Israeli television, snickers. "You call this support?" he thinks. "My life has been on the line for decades in the service of my country, and you guys are listening to Soulfarm on the Great Lawn?"
Let's face it. Jewish Americans who don't take Zionism seriously come to the parade the same way that Jews who don't take Judaism seriously show up to shul on Yom Kippur. It's a once-a-year guilt-off-my-chest event. And then we can go back to doing whatever it was we were doing with the lazy, comfortable knowledge that we’ve done our share for the Holy Land.
You haven't done your share. Not even close.
I have never marched in the parade here in New York (though growing up out-of-town, I did march in our city’s version), but I am sorely tempted to go. I would carry my own signs and pass out my own t-shirts. They would say:
MAKE ALIYAH, NOT PARADES
IF YOU’RE SUCH A ZIONIST, WHY ARE YOU HERE?
I'M SORRY, DID YOU THINK "WEST SIDE" AND "WEST BANK" WERE THE SAME THING?
PUT YOUR BODY WHERE YOUR HEART IS. MOVE TO ISRAEL
and my personal favorite,
MY CHAREIDI BROTHER-IN-LAW LEARNING IN KOLLEL IN YERUSHALAYIM IS A BIGGER ZIONIST THAN YOU
For those of us stuck here in America for reasons real or imagined, there are many things you can do to support Israel. You can buy Israeli products. You can visit Israel. You can learn and daven for the welfare of the chayalim.
But don’t think that showing up to the parade on Sunday earns you your stripes.