Monday, June 1, 2015

Reminiscences on a Parade

So, I get an e-mail from Winkie about a week ago with a link to the Camp Betar Facebook Page that says there is going to be a camp reunion at the Celebrate Israel Parade (What happened to Salute to Israel Parade - somebody trying to be PC?)  Well, I figure since I'm going  to the parade anyway, I'd join the reunion. Mind you, I don't know any of these campers and I am probably old enough to be their father (grandfather!), but I  figured they would recognize me since I'd be wearing my tilboshet. Well, I walked up and down the block for two hours and a never heard a Tel Hai. Turns out they were there, since Sharon Chass posted 41 pictures to the Betar site.  Is it possible they did not recognize a Betar Tilboshet????

Wasn't a total loss since I met two chevra I haven't seen in over 40 years;  Suzi Pollack, who was in the Dance Group and Lenny Fuld who was ......lets just say he was Lenny Fuld.  I also ran into Robert Glick who was in Betar in the late '70s.


When it was time to leave, and after the obligatory stop at the MET for bathroom control, I headed back to Queens. While sitting on the train I got to reminiscing about all the parades I had been in and decided that I'd share my memories with you all.  Now at my age, my memory could be a little faulty, so please forgive me.

First Parade - 1965 (now some say there was a parade in '64; if there was I am totally unaware of it!) [Ed. see below]

It was a small affair with just the Day Schools, some Yeshivot and the Zionist Youth movements in participation. Later on we had the addition of bands, floats, non-Jewish groups and the always raucous Jewish Motorcycle clubs. And it was on Mother's Day, so I invited my mother to the after Parade event at the Bandshell in Central Park. The Parade was on Mother's Day for a while; I guess the organizers wanted it as close to the actual date of Yom Ha'Atzmaut. At some point someone got smart and moved it to later in the month.

We lined up on the avenues east of 5th, north and south of 72nd street.  The march was down 72nd street and into the park and then to the Bandshell for the festivities. I was a member of the Mishmar Ha'Kavod (more on the Mishmar Ha'Kavod later) under the apt tutelage of David Sprung, and I was carrying one of the M1s we had on loan from the DCM.  All of a sudden, some police officer asks us (remember we were all in uniform) to help with crowd control.  So, here I am a, seventeen year old with an M1 doing crowd control for the NYC PD!!!! (remember my mom is in the audience) At some point, some police Lt. sees whats going on and our service to NYC is ended. (reminds me of a similar situation when those of us arrested at the Syrian Mission were filling out our own arrest form till the Precinct Capt. walks in and tears the Sgt a new one.)

After the official festivities we inaugurated our own little kumzitz that lasted for quite a while and drew the participation of many non-Betarim.

Second Parade - 1966: the RAIN Parade.  This time we're marching up 5th avenue from somewhere in the 50's to 72nd.  It was pouring for hours before the parade. We never thought it would stop and were wondering if we would be able to take off our rain gear. Finally it did and we had a wonderful march. Don't remember how, but we later picked up our coats etc. at the Manhattan Moadon - someone must have had a car at the parade rally point.

Of course there were the usual hecklers: the arabs at one spot and then the Neturei Karta further up the road. More recently the organizers have given both groups the same area to stand at to protest, along with the BDSers. I might be wrong, but this could have been the year that Reuven Miller got arrested for getting into a fight with one one the arab hecklers (sorry for the poor quality of the picture).

Third Parade - 1967: This year the parade was moved to march up Riverside Drive. Someone felt that if we marched on 5th avenue there might be trouble, considering what was going on in Israel at the time. Can't remember when the parade was in relation to the war.   

Fourth Parade - 1968: This was the year the organizers refused to let us march with our rifles (though the non-Jewish bands that had drill teams were so allowed - the only difference was that they carried parade rifles while ours were real.), and we were pushed way to the back of the parade. So, Winky fires off this scathing letter to Ted Comet, threatening various actions.  Sof, sof, were given a better spot, but no rifles.

After that it was just business as usual. Another year, another parade, with our Dance Group daintily dancing up fifth avenue. The parade route got longer going all the way to 86th street, but over the years it has been shortened, first to 79th and now back to 72nd.

Now about the Mishmar Ha'Kavod (Honor Guard).  I had the honor of being Mefaked of the Mishmar Ha'Kavod from 1966 to 1972 or 73. The first year or two we just marched up the avenue and didn't do much, and looked like the rest of the marchers. But, then we got game!

We developed a drill routine that we would demonstrate at times when we were stopped, and sometimes while we marched (believe me it was much harder if we were in motion - though the Queen's Salute was a real crowd pleaser when we were moving): Haktef et Nishka (shoulder arms), Yatseg et Nishka (port/lower arms), Degel Shek (salute), D'gel-D'gel (something I made up - a command that was a combination of shoulder and port) , and the famous L'chvod Ha'Malka (Queen's Salute), where the entire Mishmar went down on one knee with the rifles being spun down to the ground. Soon we got white spats, white web belts, gloves, and I even had a parade sword and a whistle (the whistle turned out to be a great voice saver - imagine barking orders for over two miles with all the noise going on and usually a band in front of us - the poor Betari on the east side of Fifth Avenue was sometimes unable to hear my commands and had to watch what the others were doing to get his cue).

The Mishmar Ha'Kavod was usually made up of between 9-12 Betarim: 3 flags, four rifles, two-three "outriders" to fill up the space, and myself. We drilled every Sunday for at least three months in preparation - sometimes inside: sometimes outside (you had to practice outside for the flag bearers since most of our roofs were too low)  - when we practiced outside the Duane Street Misrad, cops were called because we had the rifles out - that took a lot of explaining; once on the roof of the Brooklyn Mo'adon on Flatbush Avenue (cops were called again - more explaining). Now imagine this - we're on a roof, not too big, I have my back to the street and the Mishmar is marching towards me - what was I, crazy???

Members were selected based on their abilities, their attitude, their dedication and their strengths; if you think it is tough carrying/handling a nine pound M1 for 4 miles, figure out what it takes to handle a flag when you have a 10 mile an hour wind blowing.

Members were rotated within the Mishmar  from outrider to rifle bearer to flag bearer as their abilities increased, and I always looked to add new faces every year.  I have always been proud of those that served under me, so I would like to thank the following people: (If I've left your name out, I do apologize, but the years do take their toll, and some pictures don't show the entire Mishmar - Chaim Hornstein z"l, Aharon Goldberg, Risa (Rich) Tzohar, Mella Polacheck, Chaim Fischgrund, Dovid Skolnick, Danny Epstein, Mel Laytner, Shlomo Frisch, Kenny Arfa, Mike Robelo, Barry Liben, Sharon Lebenberg, Joel Rich, Mike Rosentraub, Alan Laytner, Stan Levine, Jonathan Friedman, Wilma Friedman, Bob Grau, George Feldman, Steven Marcus, Nachman Eckstein, J.J. Steinberg, Jeff Maas and Tzvi Bar-Shai.  And to Jonathan and Wilma Friedman, who took over as Mefaked in their own time after I left the movement, a sincere yasher ko'ach for a job well done and
a tradition continued.

Tel Hai
Shachna Waxman


From a research article, excerpts:

"The Salute to Israel Parade, originally named the Youth Salute to Israel Parade, was developed in 1964 by a team of American and Israeli Jews. At the forefront of this project were Haim Zohar, Charles Bick, and Ted Comet, who collaborated with Dr. Alvin Schiff and Dr. Dan Ronen to create this demonstration of American Jewish solidarity with Israel...

Backing for the parade was initially difficult to attain. Zohar contacted the Israeli foreign minister, the Zionist organizations in America, and other Jewish organizations. He encountered skepticism and the general response that he should not bother because it would not succeed. But Abe Harman, then Israeli ambassador to the United States, encouraged Zohar to continue. As a foreign agent, he knew that he needed American leaders to officially organize the parade. He successfully approached the American Zionist Youth Foundation headed by Chairman Charles Bick and Director Ted Comet...

...Ronen proposed a folkdance procession similar to those that occurred in Haifa on the original Yom Haatzmaut. As the former assistant to the minister of education and culture serving on the International Board of Directors of the Festivals of Folklore, Ronen had seen many parades and had organized two of them in 1958 and 1959. Ronen was inspired by these Israeli folkdance parades where participants would dance down the streets, followed by more elaborate two- to three-minute performances.

Other inspirations included the Ad Lo Yada parade on the Purim holiday in Israel and other parades by Israeli youth movements...

The first mini-parade took place in 1964 when Zohar marched with the Manhattan Day School and their principal from the school to a theater on Broadway holding the Israeli flag. Smaller parades that year featured schools in Queens. The Salute to Israel Parade officially began in 1965.

Deciding its route was another issue that resulted in compromise between the parade officials and the Israeli consulate. In keeping with the standard set by the other ethnic groups, the parade committee wanted everyone to march down Fifth Avenue. However, the consulate was not sure that there would be a large-enough turnout to cover the entire route, and that a low turnout would be a greater loss than gain. The final route that was chosen stretched from 72nd Street and First Avenue to 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue, with the parade then turning onto Fifth Avenue and continuing until 59th Street.

On 2 May 1965, Zohar awoke to see gray skies and rain clouds. He feared that all the hard work would go to waste. Around 10 a.m., however, the sun came out. The weather was excellent the rest of the day, and the parade occurred as planned...At 59th Street the marchers and the bystanders all gathered into Central Park for a pro-Israeli rally. It was designed to have both an Israeli and an American flavor and featured many prominent figures including Fiddler on the Roof star Zero Mostel, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s daughter, and the head of the New York Police Department (who was Jewish). Mayor Robert Ferdinand Wagner of New York of New York spoke and was followed by both American and Israeli folkdancers, singers, and an orchestral performance. Everyone viewed the parade as a huge success, so much so that it moved entirely to Fifth Avenue the following year."


Batya said...

Wonderful post. NCSY was also in the first parade, because I marched with them. Later on I would march twice, NCSY and then Betar, which was the order those years. I'd run back to "start" or wherever Betar was. So you could say I marched it 3 times, twice forward and once in the wrong direction.

PS that was She'era with Winkie when we visited June, 1976.

Batya said...

1977 not 1976