BY JORDANA HORN–
Over 30,000 participants were estimated to have taken part in Sunday’s “Celebrate Israel” parade in New York City, commemorating Israel’s 63rd year of independence with a march up Fifth Avenue from 57th to 74th Streets.
The Empire State Building was lit up in blue and white Saturday night as a tribute to Israel, and blue and white decorations were made the prevailing color along Fifth Avenue.
Additionally, an inaugural four-mile race through Central Park to commemorate Israeli independence prior to the parade was sponsored by the New York Road Runners and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
Over 5000 runners participated in the morning run.
The parade used to be known as the “Salute to Israel” parade, but this year, the name was changed to Celebrate Israel to focus on celebrating Israel’s diversity and strengths. This year’s parade organizers made an effort to touch base with Israelis living in the New York area.
Participants in the parade included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; New York Governor Andrew Cuomo; New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand; Israeli Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein; Israeli Consul General Ido Aharoni; and Grand Marshal Joseph Sitt, the New York real-estate developer and CEO of Thor Equities.
One special guest participant was missing, due to having been denied a visa to travel to the parade. Gheorghes (George) Exantus, a Haitian-champion salsa dancer, had had a leg amputated because of damage from the 2010 earthquake. Israeli doctors and physiotherapists treated him and, through prosthesis and rehabilitation, enabled Exantus to dance again within eight months.
Exantus was to participate in the parade and dance at a concert afterwards, however, last week, the US embassy in Haiti denied Exantus a travel visa to the US, fearing Exantus would try to immigrate illegally. New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez appealed the decision, but to no avail.
The parade was broadcast on live television for the first time, and is said to be the largest pro-Israel celebration in the world.
Some people carried signs decrying US President Barack Obama’s recent Middle East speech.