Sunday, May 06, 2007

Lag B'Omer

How to describe a day that was nothing if not an experience of utter joy?

I went to the Salute to Israel Day Parade to march alongside Yeshiva University. Since I wasn't sure whether I'd end up with a shirt, I decided to go with the classic white and blue, the navy blue shirt and the white vest on top. This and my favorite Shoresh sandals completed the look, which was topped off by wet hair (I'd just taken a shower.)

I fell into step with a group of Stern girls whom I didn't know, and we quickly determined that we couldn't walk down Park all the way to our meeting place of 54th and Park, as that would entail walking into buildings. So we swerved and turned and finally made it to the spot, where we were told to hurry up and get into position, and then informed that we had to get in front of the Yeshiva University highschoolers. At this point, I received a shirt (it was more like a dress; I was swamped, but that's all good) and caught my first glimpse of the riotous cacophony that is the incredible mix of Jews at the Israel Day Parade.

My friend Super Brown! said it best when he asked whether I had ever been here before-I hadn't- "It's one of my favorite days. It's one of the days where the barriers fall down between the different sects and groups in the Jewish community."

And did I ever get to see that! Today was a day that was all about the absolute unity and love of the Jewish people for the State of Israel but also for each other. Everyone, everyone was there. Yeshiva University, Yachad, Solomon Schechter, AJC, Nefesh b'Nefesh...I mean everyone. Christians for the State of Israel and any group in the entire world that loves Israel. That means all Jews, pretty much, except the Neturei Karta, and I didn't even get to see them, though I heard all about them from loads of other people.

It was loud. I mean, there are these huge floats that glitter and which people ride upon with little bands or groups of people playing instruments. There's your school or your group and they are cheering and dancing and other people standing on the sidelines of 5th Avenue who are screaming and waving flags and whooping as you pass by. Then there are stations with men with microphones who intone, "Yeshiva University, 119 years of...." and everyone whoops and laughs and screams.

I was in the second row originally, but then people fell away from the big blue banner, so I ended up carrying the banner the whole way to 82nd street. That was so much fun. There's this amazing girl, Tiffany, whose last name I don't know, but she rocks. She had on sunglasses and she was so exuberant and spirited and energetic and she and I and a few others were the only people who were cheering the whole time. She should have had a megaphone; if she'd had one, then we would have been set. We were all cheering, "What what? YU! What what? YU!" and just screaming and yelling and clapping and dancing. When we passed by the supporters of Palestine we all started singing, "Am Yisrael Chai" as loudly as we could. It was surreal; this huge group of people shouting and singing and jumping up and down as though they could pound their mark into the ground if they just tried hard enough.

Oddly, I scream really loudly and I still have a voice. It was pretty entertaining; every so often people would die down or wouldn't know what to cheer so I'd just yell, but it's not a yell, it's a who-o-oo-o sound and apparently really loud and "like a siren." But it was awesome because once I'd start everybody else would join in and the people on the sides would smile because they had been acknowledged and we were all smiling and nodding at them as we pranced onward.

President Richard Joel was right in front of us, as was Rabbi Kenneth Brander and another Rabbi whose name I don't know but who asked me what I was doing for the summer. This was entertaining, as I wonder whether I was supposed to recognize him. Ah well. President Joel rocks- Tiff said to him, "Why aren't you cheering? You're Yeshiva University!" to which he rejoined, "No, you are Yeshiva University!" and he pointed to all of us.

They wanted to know who among us was graduating and people told him. There were people snapping pictures and someone reporting for Shalom news so every so often we'd slow to allow them a shot of the banner, which was fun. We needed more of the really energetic people, though, Tiff and I and the other banner girls were shouting as loudly as we could, but we still couldn't get everyone to follow. Sometimes we were just dancing, though, as the YU float was in front of us and they had people playing music and pitching t-shirts to the crowds.

How to describe the scene? Thousands of people milling about. Everyone has different shirts; you can see which organization they belong to based on the shirts. The Albert Einstein folks were awesome; they had these Scrubs-like shirts that said "Albert Einstein School of Medicine" on the front and on the back they said something about how light cannot always be quantified, but in this case light equals Israel. The OU had a float which featured NCSY and all their other programs. The Schechter folks had shirts that had a design in the back with a heart and Israel that said, "One heart, one love, one land" or something close to that. There was this huge band, too, and I have no idea who the people were- maybe Ethiopian Jews? They were incredible, pounding away at their drums and instruments, standing completely at attention.

Of course there were pitstops in the crowd- you could see these little stands where they were selling pretzels, sodas, maybe hotdogs. By 82nd, right where you got off, there were some ice cream trucks (smart of those drivers) to relieve the happy, thirsty marchers.

And so many Jews! I have never seen so many Jews in my was the most incredible experience to see so many Jews getting along, happily marching, just so in love with a cause and an ideal. So amazing.

After I concluded my march, I waited for my Schechter cousins (they're the ones from my Thanksgiving story), all of whom were carrying these huge Israeli flags. They gave the flags back to others kids who were taking the schoolbuses back. Then, having planned for this, we all walked up to 84th and Lexington, where we dined at the Galil Restaraunt. There were loads of people from the parade there, neon yellow shirts, green shirts, and grey and blue YU shirts all dining together.

My cousins, as always, were misbehaving in the restaurant, but that's because I'm not "company." My older cousin did this excellent imitation of how he would act if I were company; all straitlaced and starchy and bored. I didn't get to blow any straws at him this time; he got me several times, though. Then my younger cousin decided to innocently call me "Super-Jewish" so now guys, if you're Orthodox, you're a Super-Jewish SuperJew! Hurrah for us Orthodox SuperJews. Then he proceeded to horrify me with his evil sexist jokes (don't worry, he's not really sexist.) "Want to hear a joke?" he asks, his eyes innocent. "Women's rights." I respond, "You horrible little man!" and my older cousin asks the younger one, "What'd you have for breakfast?" and then they both elbow me so I'm squashed in the middle and they say, "An Olivia sandwich!" and I tell them that they're both horrible and should leave me be, but my eyes are laughing so they know I'm not serious.

Now, as I didn't have breakfast this morning, the meal at Galil was going to my lunch and dinner together. I ponder over the menu and decide to get this hugely expensive prime-rib steak, 16 ounces. My older cousin informs me that "women" can only eat 12-ounce steaks. I give him a look. We all order (he gets the Jerusalem platter) and I request my steak medium to well-done. He gives me a look. Apparently my cousin's squeamish, ha! He only believes in well-done steaks.

Then he starts telling me about paintballing. I'm entranced, completely fascinated. "But don't you get completely bruised?" and he gives me this really serious look and tells me that no, you don't. Then he tells me he wanted me to come last time and he wonders whether I'd like it. "Well, not if I get really hurt," I say but he assures me I won't and it's settled that next time they go to Thunder Ridge I'll come along, too.

That's when our food comes and I've got this enormous steak with french-fries. I eat most of it and he's amazed that I can. They help with the french-fries but are scared of the steak. Ah, my scaredy-cat cousins. In the middle of the meal he dips his straw into his parents' waters with lemon, holds his finger over the straw, sucks up the water and pours it into my glass of orange Fanta. "You're a horrible little man!" I say again, but I drink it anyway. "Too bad there's no spepper this time," he says and I laugh.

We have to figure out where we're going for dessert. They suggest Dunkin Donuts but I explain that I can't because I'm still fleishigs so they decide we'll go to Dale & Thomas Popcorn instead. Then my older cousin tells me this whole story about how he was at this Sweet Sixteen party where everyone was pretty drunk, so he and his friends said, "Screw this, let's go get popcorn" which strikes me as an extraordinarily funny line, and that is when he first experienced Dale & Thomas.

It gets colder as we're walking back and I shiver, so he takes off his IDF sweatshirt and gives it to me. I put it over my YU shirt, vest and all and it is huge on me so I laugh as I catch my reflection in the glass; I'm completely dwarfed by this incredibly large green sweatshirt. But it's so nice of him to give it to me.

Then we're driving down 5th Avenue but see that it's been blocked off at 86th, so his father takes a turn so we go down Broadway and traffic is awful, so we're stuck and watching as New York engages in its idiotic horn-blowing rituals; basically, everyone honks at once for no good reason- it doesn't make anyone move any faster. We finally get close to Dale & Thomas and he and I and my younger cousin dash out of there and attempt to get into the store but there's a very long line so we stand outside the glass door for a while. Then we go inside and I get caramel popcorn because it's parve. Back to the car and they drop me off at my dorm, where they take stuff from me because they'll store it for me over the summer, and it's an awesome day.

My older cousin is happy when he gets to go into the city, so he tells his parents that he needs to come to see me off before I leave for good, even though before he and I jokingly decided that he'd had too much Olivianess. It was great- I came back down to the car to put my stuff in, and there they are, the one absorbed in his GameBoy, the other playing with his iPod, but they both got out to say goodbye to me, and that's so nice. He's entertained by how much taller he is than I am, I have to reach up to hug him and he finds that amusing.

I had an incredible day, a day that was absolutely imbued with happiness and love and joy and then I got to have fun with my cousins, so what could be better?

I should probably go study for my final now, and on that note...


Erachet said...

Yay!!! I saw you at the parade! And I'm so glad you finally got a shirt!!!

Jack Steiner said...

Sounds like a lot of fun. It is important to have days like that.

Jacob Richman said...

You can see pictures of the parade at:

Ezzie said...

:) See? Awesome.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Chana - sounds like you had a blast! And it's always a treat to vicariously re-experience college life through your blog :)

And yes, you should definitely appreciate President Joel! He's a major asset to YU.

SaraK said...

I don't know who you are but I must have seen you marching with YU :) It was nice to see the rebbeim marching along with the students. and I thought you guys had the coolest t-shirts. My friends and I were trying to get those for the rest of the day. Is anyone selling them on eBay? ;)