By Symi Rom-Rymer
Living in a large, multi-cultural city like New York, you get used to the ethnic parades that come through town. In early fall, there’s the German-American parade with grown men wearing too-tight leder-hosen and sidewalk venders selling copious amounts of bratwurst and pretzels. In the heat of the summer, there is the Puerto Rican day parade. Subway cars fill with enthusiastic teenagers dressed in as many variations of the PR flag as possible—tank tops, bandanas, shorts—until they spill into the streets to demonstrate their pride. In the early spring, it’s the turn of the Irish with their bagpipes, shamrock-colored wigs, and Kiss-me-I’m-Irish pins (do those ever work?).
This year, stuck once again in the midst of tipsy, ebullient parade crowds on my way to work, I started to think about the Jews. As in, where is our parade? There is, of course, the Israel parade, an annual event launched in 1964 described by its official website as “a major vehicle for Zionist expression [that] enables our communities to come together in a non-partisan, apolitical show of unity and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel.” Festive as that is, however, it’s not really about celebrating the American Jewish community, which has its own unique identity and history.
So, I started to wonder: if we did launch a Jewish-American parade, what would it look like? Would teenagers stick matzo stickers on their cheeks? Would the shtetl nostalgia come out in force with marching bands playing songs from Fiddler on the Roof and women dancing horas dressed in schmattas and headscarves? Or we maybe would go the more intellectual route with a reading of Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus.” Perhaps the Jewish contribution to the New York garment industry could be represented by Tim Gunn and Christian Siriano (they could be made honorary Jews for the occasion…right)?
Even if the parade did devolve into little more than stereotypes of the American-Jewish immigrant experience—and really, what parade doesn’t involve some type of overgeneralization—there is no reason that we, too, can’t celebrate our place in American society in style with loud music and tacky clothes. Then again, maybe since bagels are now sold in Dunkin’ Donuts and Oprah gives out ‘Chutzpah awards,’ we don’t need a parade to make our presence felt. Maybe next year I should just crash the Chinese New Year parade. I do love Chinese food. And really, what’s more Jewish-American than that?
Symi Rom-Rymer writes and blogs about Jewish and Muslim communities in the US and Europe. She has been published in JTA, The Christian Science Monitor and Jewcy.