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Elected officials join marchers in New York to Celebrate Israel

Thousands of Israel boosters waved blue and white flags as they marched up Fifth Avenue on Sunday for the annual Celebrate Israel parade.

In keeping with this year's theme of "Israel Branches Out" -- celebrating growth and creativity -- some marchers carried banners festooned with flowers and fruit.

"I think it's very important to show our support for Israel and show our love for Israel," said Barbara Elem, a teacher at Yeshiva at the Jersey Shore in Deal Park, N.J. "It's a wonderful event to see that everyone is here in the spirit of togetherness."

Elected officials including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo waved to constituents. Sen. Charles E. Schumer used a bullhorn to shout "Let's hear it for Israel! And America!"

An New York Police Department marching band played "This is My Country" while entrepreneurs sold Israeli flags for $3 each.

Formerly called the Salute to Israel Parade, the event celebrates the birth of the Jewish state in 1948. It draws students from yeshivas and Jewish day schools around the Northeast as well as members of Jewish groups and synagogues.

Karen Popowsky was waiting to march with her group from Little Neck Jewish Center in Queens, one of 13 synagogues marching as a cluster.

"We support each other as synagogues by working together and showing our support of Israel," she said.

Vered Dekel, a New Yorker who came to the U.S. from Israel 27 years ago, said she and her husband, Naftali Dekel, attend the parade every year.

"We feel more Israeli on this day," she said. "It's very emotional for us, seeing all these big crowds cheering for Israel. It's a great thing for us."