MONTREAL — Thousands gathered in downtown Montreal for a joyous mid-day celebration of the State of Israel’s 60th anniversary last Thursday.
Liberal leader Stéphane Dion walks in parade along René Lévesque Boulevard, with, from left, St. Laurent municipal councillor Maurice Cohen, Israeli Consul General Yoram Elron and Lawrence Bergman, Liberal Member of the National Assembly for D’Arcy McGee. [Mickey Gutstein photo]
Place du Canada was filled with Israeli flags, big and small, waving in the gentle breeze, as a band played favourite Hebrew songs. An attempt was made to break the Guinness world record for the largest horah, and the assembled, estimated at 15,000 by the organizers, made a valiant effort, led by veteran Israeli folkdance teacher Peter Smolash.
More than 80 school buses brought participants in from the Montreal area, as well as from Kingston. Organized groups also came in from Ottawa and Sherbrooke.
In the midst of the spirited stepping were Public Security Minister Stockwell Day and Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, the two guest speakers, both of whom opened their greetings in Hebrew.
Day said that Israel is “a beacon of hope and light” in the Middle East and that his government will stand firmly with the state as “storm clouds gather on the horizon” once again.
He said there are those today who, as in 1948, want to destroy the dream that Jews held for 2,000 years of returning to Jerusalem.
“Israel stood firm in its belief in the promise of its own land, fought and won,” he said, to cheers. “This time, when the music stops, we have to continue to stand together with Israel.”
He denounced those who say Israel has no right to exist and any comparison between Zionism and apartheid.
Dion underlined Canada’s historic friendship with Israel and praised the courage and tenacity of the Jewish people, who despite having been victims of the worst atrocities, continue to strongly uphold democratic values.
“There can be no peace without security, and peace is not the absence of war, it is the concord of the people… Israelis and Palestinians.”
Dion said “the world needs Israel,” and noted that eight Nobel prizes have been awarded to Israelis, and that others have made great achievements in fields from literature to solar energy development.
The only provincial politician present was D’Arcy McGee Liberal MNA Lawrence Bergman. (Premier Jean Charest later in the day attended a reception hosted by the Israeli consulate at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim).
The city of Montreal was represented by Frank Zampino, chair of the executive committee. Mayor Gérald Tremblay was in Tunisia to attend a meeting of the International Association of Francophone Mayors.
The rally, like last year, was organized by the Consortium of Jewish Organizations, which relied, to a large extent, on volunteers and the financial support of individuals. It was co-chaired by Ariela Cotler and Amos Sochaczevski.
Under heavy police presence, the event began at 11 a.m. at Phillips Square. The celebrants were kept well apart from a small number of protesters, including members of the anti-Zionist haredi sect Neturei Karta and a group claiming to be Jews opposed to Israel’s policies.
Led by a cavalcade of motorcyclists and a flat-bed truck carrying a band and singer Yaacov Sassi, the assembled made their way to René Lévesque Boulevard and finally to Place du Canada for the main event.
A festive atmosphere filled the park as people of all ages, from babies in strollers to seniors, laughed at the patter of MC Abe Gonshor, sang and danced, held picnics, hawked souvenir T-shirts or accepted Lubavitchers’ invitation to put on tfillin.
Israeli Consul General Yoram Elron was heartened by the sight of the sea of blue and white before him. “Your presence is a source of great strength and encouragement to us at a time when it is most needed.”
Youth choirs from two Negev towns – Montreal’s twin city, Be’er Sheva, and Sderot, which is enduring continuous rocket attacks from Gaza – also performed.
Gonshor also assured Elron of the Montreal Jewish community’s concern for the people of the Sderot area.
The rally concluded with the blowing of shofars by the many participants who had brought them along, and with the singing of the Canadian and Israeli anthems, led by Bialik High School students.
Elsewhere, Federation CJA held an outdoor family Yom Ha’atzmaut party at its West Island branch, and all the students at the United Talmud Torahs in St. Laurent took part in an international sing-along of Hatikvah.
In the National Assembly in Quebec City, a motion saluting Israel and supporting a two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was adopted unanimously. The motion was proposed jointly by Bergman, Parti Québécois MNA Sylvain Simard and Action Démocratique MNA Simon-Pierre Diamond.
In Ottawa, Montreal Liberal MP Irwin Cotler rose in the House of Commons to congratulate Israel “on the building of a pluralistic, democratic state amidst relentless assaults and calls for its destruction – and for an enduring legacy of scientific, cultural, academic and economic achievements.”
The Bloc Québécois’ Francine Lalonde affirmed Israel’s “right to live peacefully and safely within secure, recognized borders” and recognized the peace efforts of the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which she hopes will lead to the creation of a democratic Palestinian state, also living in peace and security next to its Israeli neighbour.