It may not have been as large as the rally in Washington, but Montreal Jews are proud that they brought more than 25,000 people — one-quarter of the local Jewish community — to a rally on Israel’s Independence Day this week.
Considering that many of the 100,000 Jews at the Washington rally were bussed in from elsewhere in the United States, many Montreal Jews found their local turnout Wednesday quite significant.
The rally featured loud Israeli music, lots of flag-waving, speeches from spiritual and community leaders and a march through the downtown core.
It also was significant for the attendance of many non-Jews, with representatives from 35 ethnic communities turning up to support Israel.
“Israelis have been suffering for many years, and we would like to see them have a happier life,” said Cecil Alfred, representing Montreal’s Trinidadian cultural organization. “They should not be afraid when they wake up every day. And, in light of what happened Sept. 11, we would like to see a better society, one where all people can be safe.”
Elsewhere in Canada, thousands took part in an Independence Day rally also in Toronto on Wednesday.
There was “a sea of blue and white flags up Bathurst Street,” Toronto Rabbi Moshe Shulman observed proudly.
In Montreal, a French Canadian supporter, waving a blue-and-white fleurs de lys of Quebec that mirrored Israel’s national colors, said he came to support the Jewish people.
“My people have big hearts, and it was important for me to come and tell the Jewish people we are behind them,” said Jean Rochefort. “Because they often feel sorry for the oppressed people of the world, many Quebecers support Palestinians, as well.
“But the Jewish people have been oppressed since the beginning of time and I think they deserve the support of anyone who believes in a free, just world,” Rochefort continued. “Israel deserves to exist in safety and without constant fear. If the Palestinians really do want peace, these attacks against Israel must stop.”
On the other side of barriers manned by dozens of police officers, some 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators chanted and waved signs of their own. A group of Satmar Chasids — anti-Zionist Jews who believe the Jews should not have a state until the Messiah arrives — held aloft banners with messages such as “Jerusalem: Undivided Capital of Palestine.”
At one point, things got ugly when members of the protesters’ group began shouting at the pro-Israel demonstrators. Riot police appeared, but scuffling was kept to a minimum.
Elsewhere, a small group of people calling themselves the Jewish Alliance Against the Occupation quietly waved placards reading “The Occupation Is Killing Us All” and “Dismantle the Settlements Now.”
For many Montreal Jews, however, there was no doubt that their rally sent a powerful message.
“This is the largest pro-Israel rally in Canadian history,” said well-known activist Rabbi Reuben Poupko, one of the event’s organizers. “It sends a clear message to the world that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of Israel, at a time when she needs her friends the most.”
Also showing solidarity with Israel was Montreal builder Benjamin Sternthal, 30, who departed for Israel this week with a group of young adults that he organized with the help of the Federation CJA.
The group of volunteers will assist families of bombing victims and work as civil guards wherever needed.
Indeed, increasing numbers of young Montrealers are asking how they can help Israelis cope with the increasing violence and embattled atmosphere they face.
And, on Sunday, thousands of Jews are expected to travel to Ottawa to participate in a Solidarity Rally outside Parliament Hill.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.