Today tens of thousands of Americans will walk the streets of Manhattan with Israeli flags flying above them. They will wear hats of all different colors. They will wear t-shirts with the names of schools, synagogues and organizations. There will be speakers and music and falafel. For some it will be their first year marching and for others it will be their tenth or twentieth or even fortieth.
The Israel Day Parade is the largest gathering in the world in support of Israel. It has been held every year in New York since 1964. The parade goes north on Fifth Avenue from 57th Street to 74th Street. There is a parade concert in Central Park, and the Empire State Building lights its tower up in a blue and white pattern. This year Israel Deputy Defense Minister MK Danny Danon and former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton will be speaking at the parade.
From all different backgrounds and parts of the world, we gather today for one unifying reason: We love Israel. Every year during high school when I marched in the parade I thought about how amazing it was to see so many diverse groups come together to support this tiny, almost invisible country across the world. The Israeli flag in our arms meant we were proud. We were proud of our soldiers, of our families that lived there, of our ideals that echoed through the words of Hatikva. And after living in Israel for the past 14 years, I can think of other flags to wave above me.
A flag for the state-of-the-art Israeli hospitals where my five children were born.
A flag for the beautiful highways and roads and tunnels that we traveled on from Eilat to the Hermon.
A flag for all the policemen who checked every forgotten knapsack on the street and for all the bus drivers who navigated the narrowest of streets without flinching.
A flag for the hundreds of hiking trails and stunning views that we were blessed to see over the years.
A flag for the ancient prayers at Hebron and the newborn words uttered beside the Kotel’s worn, golden stones.
A flag for the newspaper man who offered me a blessing with my coffee.
And a flag for the airport that welcomed us home each time with a fountain of endless water and a sky so bright it hurt my eyes.
A flag for the teachers there who shared their wisdom and the friends that shared their hearts.
A flag for the people who came before us to build up the desert and for those who came after us to continue.
A flag for the tears and the laughter and the hope of a nation coming home.
A flag for all the Torah learning emanating forth at all hours of the day.
A flag for the brave soldiers who serve with purpose and dedication.
And a flag for those who cry and rejoice and worry from afar.
We hold our banners above our heads and in our souls. Who we are. Where we come from. What we are proud of. When the world denies Israel its right to defend itself, we stand up and protest. Because we want to be by Israel’s side. In hard times. And victorious times. And all the shades in between. We know what it means to be a nation without a homeland, and we don’t want to be homeless again. Israel is the source of our strength and our courage. It is the direction of our prayers as we turn towards the East and dream of Jerusalem.
At Jewish weddings we sing after the chuppah: “If I Forget you Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her cunning. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I remember thee not. If I don’t raise Jerusalem above my highest joy.” In the moment of our greatest joy, we remind ourselves of an even greater joy. As individuals, as couples, as families, as communities. We remind ourselves of our beliefs and our loyalties. We remember that our happiness is intricately intertwined with the lives of our brethren across the ocean, with the holiest city in the world and with the Land that welcomes us with open arms.
I remember you Israel. Your smells and your sounds and your people. I remember your roads and your yearnings and your skies full of promise. I remember your wars and your tears and your losses. I remember the song of your language and the intensity of your light. I remember how you welcomed me when I couldn’t find my way. I will stand by you like you stood by me.
Israel, we are here for you. In the tens of thousands. With shirts of every different color and songs of every kind of note. We stand for your security and your peace. We stand for your people and your cities. We stand for you like you stand for us.
Israel we love you. This flag is for you.