Maccabi Athletes Celebrate Israel at NYC Parade
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Maccabi Athletes Celebrate Israel at NYC Parade

After a three-year hiatus, New York City’s Celebrate Israel parade resumed to enthusiastic crowds on May 22.

Junior Athletes on the Maccabi USA float at this year’s Celebrate Israel parade in New York City. // Mark D. Phillips/
Junior Athletes on the Maccabi USA float at this year’s Celebrate Israel parade in New York City. // Mark D. Phillips/

After a three-year hiatus, New York City’s Celebrate Israel parade resumed to enthusiastic crowds on May 22.

During the parade, whose goal was to express unity with Israel while galvanizing Jews across all five boroughs of New York City, hundreds of groups representing a wide spectrum of the Jewish community marched through Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.

Attendees included everyone from Yeshiva University students to bikers to members of the leftist LGBTQ organization Keshet, along with local representatives like New York Governor Kathy Hochul, who marched alongside New York State Attorney General Tish James, carrying an Israeli flag.

Master swimmer (middle) speaking to two Junior swimmers. // Mark D. Phillips/

The Israeli delegation was headed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata and Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai. New York City Mayor Eric Adams joined Asaf Zamir, Israel’s consul to New York, and erstwhile NYC mayors Bill de Blasio and Rudy Giuliani.

Not to be overlooked among the vibrant displays of Israeli pride was the Maccabi USA float, which included over 60 members of the 21st Maccabiah delegation and Maccabi USA alumni, the majority of whom live in the Greater New York City area. Maccabi USA joined for the third time in the parade’s storied history, this time with the stated goal of “passing the torch to a new generation of athletes participating in this summer’s 21st Maccabiah.”

Maccabi USA Vice President Donald Kent speaks to the crowd at the morning team send-off celebration. // Mark D. Phillips/

“It was amazing to see so many different Jewish organizations from different Jewish affiliations,” says Shahar Frank, who serves as the Central Shaliach (Emissary) in the U.S. for Maccabi World Union, tirelessly promoting the Maccabi movement throughout North America. “Some of them were more religious. Some of them were not religious at all. Some of them were sports, like us. Some of them were youth movements. People were so happy to be back on the streets and not staying on Zoom.

“We can see on our side that people would like to get together. People would like to meet their teammates. It was moving to see that,” he told the AJT.

The 2022 Maccabi USA team was just as diverse as it was spirited, with athletes from many different sports (volleyball, swimming, tennis, soccer, gymnastics, track and field, to name a few) and different generations represented. Teenaged athletes waved the Israeli flag alongside older Maccabi alumni, one of whom was an 86-year-old tennis player.

The view from the team send-off celebration location. // Mark D. Phillips/

“There’s a big gap between our youngest and our oldest,” adds Frank, who has been working since January to organize participation for the Maccabi USA parade, “which makes it great to see the multiple generations across the organization.”

However, two prominent members of the current Maccabi USA team, former NBA All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire, who will serve as an assistant coach for the U18 boys’ basketball team, and table tennis star Tahl Leibovitz, who medaled twice during the 1996 Summer Paralympics in Atlanta, did not partake in the parade.

This year’s Israel celebration was unique, not only because of the pandemic-induced hiatus, which prompted the official theme of “Together again,” but also because of an added layer of tension due to the current climate of antisemitism. Thankfully, anti-Israel protests during the parade were rather muted.

Two-time Judo Olympian medalist (Rio 2016, Tokyo 2020) Ori Sasson with the Maccabiah torch. // Mark D. Phillips/

“As an Israelite, it taught me that not everyone’s going to be happy with what you do,” says Frank. “That’s OK. They were not really significant at all.”

Rather, the more imposing obstacle included the blistering temperatures in New York City and, for that matter, along the entire East Coast during the fourth weekend of May.

“I guess the heat did scare some people from coming,” acknowledges Frank, who is also charged with organizing send-off parties for Maccabi USA, including one slated for Sandy Springs on June 13, prior to this summer’s festivities. “But it was not really that bad. Definitely not as bad as we thought it was going to be. And it’s good preparation for the summer in Israel.”

Perhaps the best preparation for Maccabi USA’s upcoming summer competition in Israel was the chance for teammates to become familiar with one another, not only during the parade itself but also beforehand, during the team send-off, which was also held in Midtown Manhattan. This summer’s Maccabi USA delegation will include over 1,300 athletes, coaches, organizers and relatives all trekking to Israel.

And, while it will be virtually impossible to meet everyone, an event like the Celebrate Israel parade goes a long way toward fostering team unity in the world of sports and beyond.

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