Marchers celebrate Israel at Manhattan parade

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Two-year-old Ella Hirt of Lawrence on Sunday sat in the arms of her father as the family moved up Fifth Avenue watching the music, dancing and hoopla that was the Celebrate Israel parade.

Her parents, Lance Hirt, 46, and Rivkie Hirt, 44, were among some 35,000 marchers and tens of thousands of spectators in midtown to fete the Jewish state.

"We want to show our allegiance to Israel and how as Americans, we are allies," Rivkie Hirt said. "We are the closest allies of each other."

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Marchers boarded buses, hopped trains and drove their own vehicles from across Long Island to get to the event, and some flew from as far as Israel itself. The parade's origins date back to a spontaneous march in 1964 down Riverside Drive.

This year, Lawrence philanthropists Marty and Melodie Scharf served as grand marshals.

Melodie Scharf said her children have been marching in the parade for 20 years. "People, people who are Jewish, should be proud," Marty Scharf said. "Proud and defiant."

Mark Bernstein, 63, a retired special education teacher, said he was one of 40 or so congregants who took a bus from Beth Shalom of Rockville Centre and East Meadow Jewish Center to the event.

"It's important because it shows our love for Israel and shows the city and the world that Jews do exist," he said.

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Reva Black, 18, of Lawrence, who attends Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls in the Five Towns, said: "Since we were little, we were always told we always believe in Israel, no matter what we were doing. Even if we can't live there we want to be a part of it."

Security was tight, with helicopters hovering overhead, police officers lining the parade route and two rows of metal police barricades separating spectators from those marching.

The annual event attracts a who's who of New York's political elite, and this year was no different.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Council Speaker Christine Quinn and many others were among the guests.

"This city, this state, has always had a special relationship with Israel. They're our friends, they're our allies, they're such a big part of the culture of this state," Cuomo told reporters.

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Appearing at the parade is an annual tradition for mayoral hopefuls, too. Sunday, they included former MTA chairman Joe Lhota and supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, both Republicans, and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and former Rep. Anthony Weiner, both Democrats.

TV personality and sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer also marched and remembered her time in the Israeli military. "I was there when the state was being created" in 1948, she said. "I was a sniper."

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