Thoughts on Judaism

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Live from the Great Parade

Whenever Lag B'Omer falls on Sunday, Chabad leaders would organize a parade through Crown Heights. This year's "Great parade" was no exception. The weather was excellent, and NYC security was out in full force, given the events in Time Square the previous night. This year, tickets and passes to march in the parade were sold as lime green T-shirts and wrist bands. The logistical sizing of shirts was compensated with sheer quantity. There was plenty of everything. Seats were placed and reserved in theory, and a huge screen was put up for the benefit of those who were not close to the stage. A poster of the Rebbe waving, the full size of the side of 770 was unfurled right in the place where the Rebbe would stand during the parade. Men were instructed to enter at Kingston and women at Brooklyn.

Our seats were close to the stage, but I never got there. Police closed Kingston Ave. and instructed men to go to Brooklyn. Men and women seating was so mixed that if I had been a firebrand, hellfire and brimstone gadol, I would have banned it and excommunicated everyone involved. Women were crowding full stream at the Kingston entrance after police gave up to block the street and just blocked the entrance. Exit only on Kingston. I chose to enter by going around to Albany. However, unbeknownst to me the entire Kingston avenue was blocked with barracades and goons. there was no way to get to my seat, except to walk about 1.25 miles to the Brooklyn entrance. The rebeltzin went there to begin with and got the spot close to the stage, and I was stuck looking at the stage from afar but with a good view of the screen. Once the concert was over, men and women crowded each other to get near enough the street to wave to little darling as he / she walked by. There was very little of the violent pushing and crushing that I remember CH for, but on the charedi scale, it even made little ol' moderate me uncomfortable. At that point, anyone could (and did) jump over the barrier and join the parade. So my kids got to be with their group after all and all was well. Even I marched in the parade (somewhat unintentionally). The floats, clowns and acrobats were worth seeing. As a bachur, I recall staying up all night to build the float and putting a lot of sweat into them. These bachurim did just as well, and they really made it festive and exciting.

I'll add at this point that the tickets were $5 (I'd be surprised if that covered the T-shirts), Uncle Moishi was $10 and everything was reasonably priced. Even so, you could have stood right next to the barrier without paying and gotten the same experience. IOW, it was the old school Chabad, event oriented rather than money oriented, geared to be inclusive, one of the reasons I joined Chabad back then. The performers were in great form, Lipa, together with Avraham Fried, together with MBD. When they medlied at the end, they even invited Uncle Moishi along.

Traditionally, they invite children up to say the twelve pasukim. In later years, many add yechi x 3 to end. In this case, the MC was fiery "anti" Shimon Hecht, and the twelve pasukim had always been his father's gig, right up to his death in 1990. Most schools are moshichist while most city shluchim are "anti". Thus, the kid was ready to say yechi x 3, which he did. Hecht tried to start the music up to drown him out and turned off the mike. Moshichist leaders then jumped in allowing the kid to get off a punctuated yechi x 3. It seemed rather silly in retrospect as yellow flags were handed out everywhere, Moshichist signs were posted throughout the neighborhood and the kids in the audience were dancing to moshichist songs throughout the event. Let no one make a mistake, Moshichism is encouraged majority policy in Chabad. Shimon Hecht aside, there was little if any resistance.

Twice from the bimah, they called for support for Sholom Mordechai (ben Rivka) Rubashkin, and at the later fair, a table was set up by Justice for SMR, a group dedicated to getting a lighter sentence by distorting the facts of the case to the community, and generating a public outcry. As dubious as this tactic is, the sentiment that Rubashkin is a hero and that he does not deserve to be prosecuted is unanimous in Crown Heights, and official policy encourages support of Rubashkin and shuns any talk of his crimes.

The fair was a bunch of rides set up along E. New York Ave. Most of the rides were the same, spinning tub rides or inflated moonwalks and obstacle courses, and some through the ball through the hole games. The lines were long and arduous, and the humidity was a factor by later in the afternoon, so this I could have lived without. The kids had fun. There were some very good signs and tables at the fair, to get letters in a sefer Torah, in support of Jewish education, in support of tzdakah, proud to be a Jew and the like. There was the Justice for SMR table, loudly proclaiming its existence every few minutes, with soliciting donations, solidarity bracelets and petitions. There was little pushing, cutting the lines, or angry confrontations that you might see in an event of this size. People were considerate and orderly.

I have some pictures that I will add later to make the scene live.


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