On June 2, the streets between Independence Park and Sacher Park were blocked, travel plans were delayed and extra security was present as tens of thousands of youths and residents representing kibbutzim and moshavim from the country’s 53 regional councils celebrated 100 years of agricultural communities in Israel.

The annual event, developed through a partnership with the Union of Local Authorities, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Bnei Akiva youth movement, was unique this year. The celebration, called “Agricultural Communities Salute Jerusalem,” attracted between 20,000 and 50,000 people, the largest number of participants in the event’s 10-year history. The event also paid homage to Israel’s prisoners of war, especially Gilad Schalit.

The parade commenced at Independence Park, where youngsters took a break from water fights and sword fights with the flags that were distributed to listen to speeches from dignitaries such as Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Agricultural Minister Shalom Simhon and Union of Local Authorities chairman Shmuel Rifman.

“I am proud that this important gathering... is happening in Jerusalem,” Barkat said to the crowd. “We are indebted to the soldiers who we send to battle, and it’s important that the soldiers know that the state stands behind them whether they’re in Flotilla 13, guarding the borders or the captured soldier Gilad Schalit.”

Noam Schalit, Gilad’s father, was the last to address the crowd. “We acknowledge the difficult days facing the State of Israel,” he said, “but we ask that you please not forget Gilad.”

Following his speech, dozens of blue-and-white balloons, in addition to doves, were released by the Kabri School, which Schalit had attended.

Following the somber speeches, the event turned into a festive celebration of Israel’s agricultural communities, and a spirited parade led by historic tractors made its way from Rehov Agron through King George Avenue and up Rehov Bezalel to Sacher Park. The chants and cheers from the procession were accompanied by Israeli pop music that blared from vans, with speakers placed along the parade route.

Onlookers stopped and stared in bewilderment or cheered along with the marchers as the kibbutzim and moshavim announced their presence and celebrated the contributions of their communities to the State of Israel.

Then pop star Moshe Peretz took the  stage, and the day’s events ended in an eruption of song and dance. 

Dorit Avihar was one of the coordinators for the 300-500 children who attended the event from the Be’er Tuvia Regional Council in the Negev. “We just want to celebrate the way it was in the old days when the country was mostly farmers,” she told In Jerusalem. “That’s why I like that there are tractors here. Most of the children here, their parents are still farmers. It’s a reminder of who we are, and we are very proud to be here in Jerusalem.”
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