London and New York: a tale of two marches

By Simon Rocker, June 6, 2008

As organisers of a pro-Israel street rally finalised plans for their event later this month, a similar march in New York last weekend set them an impressive target to beat — with a claimed 100,000 participants.

Even allowing for the difference in Jewish populations (London: estimated 250,000; New York: just under one million), New York City’s Salute to Israel Parade last Sunday dwarfs London’s ambitions.

Organisers say that 100,000 people joined the parade, led by the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, as Grand Marshal. It featured 41 floats, 20 marching bands, celebrities and dignitaries. Sixty shofar-blowers opened the parade and 60 motorcycle riders carrying Israel flags concluded it.

On hand were participants including Russian ballet, Bukharin and Georgian dancers in costume, Israeli folk dancers, and ballroom dancers; strolling violins and klezmer bands; street performers, clowns, jugglers, and face painters; horse-drawn carriages, antique cars and super-luxury limousines; the largest hora in the world since 1948; and the Empire State Building lit in blue and white during the entire weekend.

Teenage revellers march up New York's Fifth Avenue last Sunday

Still, New York’s legendary reputation for glitter and starry names seems to have deserted it this year. The top celebrities that New York could muster were actress Lainie Kazan and Valerie Harper, best known respectively for the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding and TV series Rhoda (although Harper did appear as Golda Meir in 2007).

The latest plans for the London Salute to Israel Parade on June 29 include a party of 30 youngsters from Sderot, the town under rocket attack from Gaza.

They will be among 40 floats and walking groups celebrating Israel’s 60th anniversary in a central London parade culminating in a Trafalgar Square rally. A similar event will take place in Manchester. Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said organisers hope to attract enough people “to fill Trafalgar Square”.

Although there have been two festivals of Jewish culture in Trafalgar Square in recent years, this is the first such event in tribute to Israel.

Hip-hop violinist Miri Ben Ari and 18-year-old singer/songwriter Liel are topping the bill in London, as they did in New York.

A squadron of motorcyclists, courtesy of Yids on Bikes, and a Jewish Police Association police car will also be in the procession, along with Croydon Steel Orchestra, a guest steel band and floats supported by major Jewish organisations.

A spokesman for the Community Security Trust said: “The mutual goal of CST and police is to ensure that those who wish to join this event can do so in peace and safety.”

How they compare:

Jewish population: 250,000
Kosher restaurants: 35-40
Salute to Israel floats: 40
Marching bands: 1
Spectators: est. 20,000

New York
Jewish population: 1 million
Kosher restaurants: hundreds
Salute to Israel floats: 41
Marching bands: 20
Spectators: est. 1 million

Last updated: 11:14am, July 8 2009