MONTREAL — A sea of blue and white flags and throngs by the thousands tramped along René-Lévesque Boulevard April 20 to celebrate Israel’s 62nd birthday in brilliant warm sunshine.
A group of children dance the hora at the community’s Yom Ha’atzmaut rally.
Spontaneous horas, chants of “Am Yisrael chai” and blaring klezmer music commingled with cacophonous kids and the celebratory chants of everyone who walked to Place du Canada from Phillips Square at the Israel Independence Day community rally organized by the Jewish Unity Partnership.
According to organizers, 13,000 were at the rally, some of them bused in from Jewish schools.
The masses passing by barely seemed to notice about a dozen pro-Palestinians and anti-Zionist haredi Jews at the north-east corner of De la Cathédrale Street and René-Lévesque.
Security was, as usual, extremely tight, as men with walkie-talkies moved around among the crowds
“Despite the fact that we are separated by the seas,” Israeli Consul General Yoram Elron told the celebrants, “our hearts beat together in unison, as one. This unity today, is more important than ever before…
“As I’ve noted in the past, it’s not easy being an Israeli diplomat in this period of time, but seeing you all here is a great source of strength and encouragement.”
Unlike at previous rallies, speakers’ remarks were kept to a minimum, with MC Beryl Wajsman pledging that in total, they would not exceed 12 minutes.
The promise was kept.
Among those wishing Israel a happy birthday was Mayor Gerald Tremblay.
“We are celebrating Israel’s 62nd birthday!” Tremblay, who had attended past rallies, announced, noting that each year, he is thanked for attending, “but the reason I come is to thank you for being who you are.
“The reason we have come to this special event year after year is because we share the same values – of human dignity, social justice and love, and of peace. That unites us.”
The mayor also praised Jewish institutions such as the Segal Centre for Performing Arts and Jewish General Hospital.
Senator Leo Housakos, speaking for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, told the crowd that it’s “people like you who created the bridge between Canada and Israel, a relationship that for 60 years has been [flourishing] and growing.”
To huge cheers, Housakos noted that Harper “has been steadfast in support [of Israel] not on anything other than principle.
“His support is because of [Israel’s principles] of democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” he said.
Despite the presence of such Liberal supporters of Israel as Mount Royal MP Irwin Cotler and Laval-de-Îles MP Raymonde Folco, it was Westmount-Ville-Marie MP Marc Garneau who brought greetings on behalf of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.
“This party is steadfast in its commitment to ensuring that Israel is able to thrive as a democratic and independent state in peace and security,” Garneau said.
Also at the rally were officials from the City of Montreal, Hampstead, Cote. St. Luc, St. Laurent and Dollard des Ormeaux. They included CSL Mayor Anthony Housefather, Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg, Côte des Neiges-NDG mayor Michael Applebaum and Montreal cultural communities executive committee member Mary Deros.
The rally officially concluded with an extended blowing of the shofar and ralliers, as one, singing Hatikvah.