by Doris Strub Epstein
A call from Robert Walker to express solidarity with Israelis in the bitter depths of a war aimed to destroy them, resulted in a massive demonstration the likes of which Jews in Toronto have never seen before.
Two days after the call, the meeting room at Aish Hatorah was filled with people of different backgrounds and religious affiliations. The urgency for action was palpable. The desire to support Israel over- ride strong personalities, disagreements and differences. No one here was a professional at this, coming from all cross sections of society – musicians, doctors, salesmen, photographers … They decided to call the rally, Canadians for Israel and reach out to all Canadians. In only four days, using Emails, face book, personal calls, with no leader in place – leadership emerged and individuals took responsibility for various tasks, informing the others by Email. Using every social media possible, the message spread like wildfire.
It was decided to hold the rally in Queen’s Park, the site of the Al Quds, pro Hamas demonstration the day before. While Israel is facing Hamas, a ruthless terrorist organization outlawed in Canada, Hamas’s supporters here in Canada are staging violent and anti -Semitic demonstrations inspired not only by the likes of Hamas but also the primary state sponsor of terrorism around the world, Iran.
An astounding, record number of people responded. Over 2,000 people of diverse backgrounds and ages gathered together on the south lawn in front of the Ontario Legislature buildings. As Miles Smit, one of the organizers commented; “This was an authentic grassroots happening without anyone in charge, in short notice, without any real money.”
“We pulled off in a few days what ordinarily takes thousands of dollars and many weeks,” exclaimed Robert Walker. “It’s a testament to our passion, our skills and our commitment to the cause of justice.”
The crowd thronged the south lawn at Queens Park, singing Am Yisroel Chai, waving Israeli and Canadian flags, displaying signs for peace, for Israel, against Hamas. Feelings were intense. When John Carmichael, MP Don Valley West quoted Prime Minister Harper saying ” Hamas’s indiscriminate attacks on civilians are reprehensible actions which require Israel to defend itself. Our government stands unequivocally with Israel through fire and water,” a roar erupted and chants of “Harper Harper” could be heard blocks away. Mark Adler Conservative MP demanded “we call them for what they are, terrorists, not militants.”
City Councillor James Pasternak responded instantly when he was approached by the organizers, offering to help. Not able to attend, his letter was read, expressing unequivocal support of Israel and denunciation of her enemies “A rally was held yesterday, in this very spot, in support of a terrorist organization determined to destroy Israel, ” he wrote.
Rabbi Daniel Korobkin of Beth Avraham in Thornhill, who just returned from Israel, intoned prayers for Israel and expressed the intent of the rally when he said, “We do not hate you or seek your destruction. We wish only to live in peace, but we won’t tolerate more aggression.” Vivienne Ziner, one of the lead organizers of the event, speaking with compelling passion said, “I am a Jewish mother. I cry for all the children. It’s in my DNA, in my Torah, in my Judaism.”
Donna Holbrook spoke on behalf of the Canadian branch International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, a pro Israel organization in 70 countries. “We stand for Israel and will not be silent.,” she told the cheering crowd. Tahir Goa representing Progressive Muslims and Muslims Against Anti-Semitism said, “I’m so happy to see all Canadians fight against hate and violence,” and urged everyone to “work together”.
In London , just two days prior, one of Canada’s leading activists for Israel, Mark Vandermass, led a counter protest with nine Jews and non Jews, against a pro Hamas rally, which threatened to become violent. “There was no police presence,” he told the crowd, ” but we faced them down.”
Suddenly a young girl sprang out from the crowd and grabbed the mike. Choking back tears she said, “I’m Keren Zeitlin. I’m 16. I’m visiting from Israel. There’s so much hatred around the world to us. My mother is a doctor at Sheba Hospital. Half her patients are from Gaza. There’s hundreds there from Syria. Nobody cares about them, only Israel.”
The startling shrillness of a siren was sounded, emulating the sirens Israelis hear when they have 15 seconds to get to a shelter, Almost the entire crowd, as directed, ducked down with their arms over their heads. This was followed by a minute of silence for the victims of both sides.
I asked one of the organizers, Miles Smit, why he a Catholic, became so involved in the Canadians for Israel Rally. He answered me tersely, “Civilization. If Israel goes, we’re next.”
“Israel is today on the front line in defense of our lives and our democratic way of life,” said Israel’s Consul General D.J. Schneeweiss in a letter read by Deputy Consul, Irit Stopper. “We are therefore greatly heartened that Canadians of every stripe understand our dilemma and are responding to it.”
Watch for more from Canadians for Israel. They’ve only just begun.