Parade dedicated to "Year of Education"

The window in my room was vibrating with a steady beat. The rain was pouring down heavily.

It was Tuesday, Lag B'Omer, 1976, and a parade was organized hurriedly in response to the Lubavitcher Rebbes proclamation that this year was to be dedicated to the "Year of Torah Education."

The Rebbe had just announced a new campaign two weeks earlier, giving only days to prepare for a grand parade on Eastern Parkway:

Planned with marching bands, clowns - the works. Publicity had been good; thousands of children were expected to join in the salute.

And here was the rain, coming down in torrents. From my apartment on Eastern Parkway, I watched the Chassidim dashing about, putting on the finishing touches. They appeared undaunted by the weather. The faithful many had apparently been up all night, struggling against time and the elements, finishing some creations and protecting others from a relentless downpour.

At last there was a lull, only the eye of the storm, it seemed to me. Floats began lining up in readiness, gift-wrapped in tarpaulins. A crowd was already gathering, and many confidently sported light summer prints in spite of the weatherperson's dour predictions. A Jewish policeman who is stationed in front of the Lubavitch World Headquarters was overheard announcing, "If the sun comes out, I'm 'converting' to Lubavitch!" Now that might clear things up...

Nevertheless, I went upstairs for boots and grabbed an umbrella before joining the crowd. Their ranks had swelled. Children piled out of buses and onto the oak-lined promenade that divides the parkway. Without the morning traffic jam, it seemed a mile wide. Men ran its length, shouting last-minute instructions. Things were getting together on time.

Suddenly, the sun burst forth! In its light, we seemed magically transported elsewhere, together, a charmed Jewish circle. Niggunim (chassidic melodies) filled the rain rinsed air. Fat helium-balloons floated high by the tree-tops, holding a variety of outsized mitzvos aloft: a giant Mezuzah, a Shabbos candle, a pair of Tefilin bobbed and swayed together in a slow dance. Did you ever see a mitzva waltzing?

The Rebbe, stepped out-of-doors onto the sunny yellow grandstand. With a smile the essence of kindness and gentleness, the Rebbe spoke warm words of Yiddish, an especially loving message for the children. We were still in rapt attention.

When the Rebbe finished speaking, the paraders began their march: floats describing the mitzvos in elegant imagery, legions of kids with gay banners, mothers carrying babies or wheeling carriages or both, wonderful, capricious as clowns (Talmudic students excel more than mental acrobatics) somersaulting by, making children (that means all of us) laugh. The Rebbe looked at everyone who filed past, his hand up at eye level, opening and closing in a special wave: a wink of the hand. Sometimes his hand became a strong baton, swinging a tempo leading the men in song.

For hours the Rebbe smiled and waved in the sunlit space in front of 770.

At the end of the parade, all strolled to a pleasant park, more clown antics, games and prizes extending the delicious afternoon.

As I walked quickly back to my apartment, aching to be rid of my leaden boots, I thought I felt - could it be? - a tiny drop. Plop! another. It had begun to drizzle. The evening weather reported that the rest of New York had been stormy all day. I wonder whatever became of the policeman...

The Rebbe waves to the children
Scenes from the parade
One of the floats  
The children marching with banners
Marching with banners
In preperation for the parade, a large Charity box