Celebrate Israel Parade Allows Openly LGBT Marchers for First Time
UPPER EAST SIDE — Blue and white flags of Israel waved in the air alongside the rainbow flags that symbolize gay pride for the first time in the history of the Celebrate Israel Parade Sunday.
A crowd that was estimated to be 35,000 turned out for, and marched along, Fifth Avenue starting at East 57th Street in Lenox Hill and ending at East 75th Street.
And, for the first time ever, organizers embraced expressions of faith and identity, new and old, by allowing members of gay Jewish organizations to march openly.
"Today for the first time in a long time, we really truly felt like part of the Jewish community," said Mordechai Levovitz, co-executive director of Jewish Queer Youth, which organized 135 marchers.
"It was big first for the LGBT community," he added.
His was the Jewish group to use the word 'gay' on T-shirts and banners, and he said the enthusiasm and turnout among the GLBTQ community was greater than even he expected.
"We had 135 people in our group," he said. "That's amazing. I had 60 T-shirts, and I didn't think I'd be able to give out even that many."
He said the struggle for acceptance and recognition within the parade, which organizers call largest public celebration of Israel in the world, began in 1993.
At that time, The LGBT Synagogue, or Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, was kicked out of the parade after registering, when some schools said they would boycott if the group marched openly, he said.
Since 2000, the same congregation, based at 57 Bethune St., was invited to march with other synagogues, but only if they didn't display the word 'gay' on banners, said Levovitz.
"That's like closeting people," he said. "That wasn't satisfying and that wasn't a way to represent Israel. For the first time ever, gay and lesbian people were able to march under a gay and lesbian banner," he said.
Marchers in the JQY group came from the Manhattan JCC, A Wider Bridge, which connects LGBTQ people through trips to Israel, and Congregation Beit Simchat Torah Synagogue.
"It was amazing, it was so much fun. We're on such a high from it," said Levovitz. "The crowd was overwhelmingly supportive."
The parade's theme in its 64th year was "Israel Branching Out."
The parade honored the Jewish state, and thousands of people lined up along the length of the parade's route to take in the decorative floats, cultural performances, bands, and even colorful clowns.
Summer weather bathed the Upper East Side onlookers, and elected officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo, Senator Chuck Schumer, Council Speaker Christine Quinn and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly all waved as they passed by.
Issac Imir, 60, from Great Neck, Long Island enjoyed a great viewing spot on East 60th Street. "It's a beautiful day and the parade is just wonderful," he said. "I'll be here again next year like I was last year."