Braving the bitter cold and traffic-snarled streets, over 5,000 people poured into Beth Tzedec Congregation on Bathurst Street, filling the sanctuary and banquet hall and spilling into overflow rooms equipped with large video screens broadcasting the event. A host of other Jewish communities across Canada – including Montreal, Halifax and Hamilton - gathered for simultaneous rallies, watching the program via closed-circuit television.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in Israel,” said community leader Julia Koschitzky, the evening’s emcee.
Fourteen days into Operation Cast Lead - Israel’s military response to Hamas’ eight-year missile assault on Sderot and other southern communities - Koschitzky sympathized with Israel’s plight.
“We understand that Israel had no choice,” she said to a rousing ovation, one of many on the night. “There is only so much a people and a land can bear before they reach a breaking point.”
The first speaker of the rally was Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl of Beth Tzedec Synagogue who delivered an impassioned d’var torah. Amir Gissin, the Consul General of Israel to Toronto followed, stressing how important this show of support was to the Jewish state and to “the war over public opinion.”
“This war is almost as important as the war on the ground,” said Gissin. While he is optimistic that Israel is winning that battle, he encouraged all present at the event and watching from coast to coast, to continue the fight by writing letters to the editor, staying informed and spreading the word.
Arguably, the most enthusiastic response from the audience came during comments from the Honourable Peter Kent, Minister of State Foreign Affairs and MP for Thornhill.
“Tonight, I am here, we are here, to stand with Israel,” said Kent to a roaring crowd. “Canada maintains these rocket attacks are the cause of this current crisis, and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against the continued attacks by Hamas.”
Kent reiterated the federal government’s desire for an enduring and sustainable ceasefire that would allow Israel and her neighbours to live in peace and without fear of attack. His words of understanding and solidarity sent hundreds of Canadian and Israeli flags waving throughout the sanctuary.
Other politicians who attended the rally were The Honourable Joseph Volpe, MP for Eglinton Lawrence; David Zimmer, Parliamentary Assistant to the Attorney General and MPP for Willowdale; Josh Matlow, Toronto District School Board Trustee for St. Paul’s; James Pasternak, Toronto District School Board for York Centre and David Cohen, Richmond Hill Councillor.
“Whether we are from Toronto, Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax, Winnipeg, Calgary or Vancouver, we want to express our appreciation for the supportive positions adopted by the government of Canada and the liberal opposition,” said Koschitzky.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, at 3:45 a.m., a live satellite broadcast from Beersheva brought the war home. Together with Yossi Tanuri, Director General, United Israel Appeal Canada, a number of brave and tired Israelis gathered at a school recently bombed by Hamas, to tell their stories and discuss the fear, resilience and harsh realities of life in Israel today.
The new Mayor of Beersheva, Rubik Danilovich, spoke of the incredible spirit and hope expressed by the students who recently visited their damaged classroom. Then there was Yehudit Recanati, who spoke about Natal – a program that funds mobile trauma units throughout Israel to provide much-needed psychological counselling to thousands of citizens. And there was Tamar Ben-Avram, the stoic mother of Raz, a soldier fighting in Gaza, who discussed how life must go on in the face of unrelenting uncertainty and fear.
The broadcast concluded with a surprise pre-recorded message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who sent his heart-felt thanks to those participating in the rally for “expressing solidarity, especially with the people of Sderot.”
The final speaker, Alon Pinkas, provided valuable insights and analysis of the ongoing conflict. Pinkas, the former Consul General of Israel in New York, explained that the goal of Cast Lead is not to topple the current regime, but rather, “to exact an overwhelming military price on Hamas.”
Pinkas placed the war in the broader context of the Middle East as well, stating that “if we defeat Hamas, we inflict defeat on Iran,” since they share the same fundamentalist, intolerant, anti-democratic ideology. He predicted that a resolution to the conflict will happen within six weeks of United States President-elect Barack Obama taking office and reiterated that Israel has no desire to re-occupy Gaza.
“At the end of all of this there will have to be a political process, not with Hamas, but with the Palestinians,” said Pinkas. “We are going to have to find a way to coexist; otherwise we are doomed for another 100 years.”