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Faith Kaplan

Faith Kaplan: Winnipeg Community Rallies for Israel

By Faith Kaplan, July 24, 2014


Winnipeggers had an opportunity to demonstrate their support for Israel at two rallies on Monday, July21, 2014.  The first was organized by a group of university students, and drew two hundred supporters who walked from Union Station to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.  A dozen Palestinian supporters held a counter demonstration, yet few harsh words were exchanged during this peaceful expression of solidarity for two communities who are under attack from Hamas terrorists operating from Gaza – Israeli and Palestinian.  Our proud and impassioned Jewish students are to be congratulated for taking the initiative to arrange a public demonstration in support of Israel. It reminded me of the Free Soviet Jewry rallies we used to attend in the 1970’s. In a lovely bit of symmetry, Sergei Did, a Russian-born Israeli Canadian who attended Gray Academy with my daughter Yael, was a driving force behind the student event.


The second rally was organized by Federation and held at the Asper Jewish Community Campus. Nearly 700 supporters from many different backgrounds were in attendance, including First Nations, church, and the Sikh and Hindu communities.  Elected officials and their staff were out in force. Speakers included MP Ted Falk (who recently returned from a mission to Israel), Norway House Cree Nation Chief Ron Evans, MLA Kerri Irvin-Ross, Herzlia -Adas Yeshurun’s Rabbi Ari Ellis, Bridges for Peace Canadian National Director Eric Malloy and Keynote speaker, the passionate Hon. Shelly Glover, Minister of Heritage. MLA Christine Melnick joined MP’s Joyce Bateman and Lawrence Toet and parliamentarian staffers. Chabad’s Camp Gan Yisroel campers recited Tehillim and Chabad rabbis set up a tefilin station on Main Street.  Albert Benarroch recited El Malei Rachamim, and in a heartbreakingly sad turn of events, the Kaddish for fallen soldiers was recited by Gary Schwartsman, whose best friend had been killed that morning in Gaza.


The rally opened with Camila Almosnino leading O Canada, ended with Hatikvah, and was punctuated with frequent applause for the Government of Canada’s unwavering commitment to Israel.  I spoke with two of the 3 special duty officers who indicated that no instances of confrontational behaviour were reported. As a precaution following ugly events in other cities, the Police Department sent patrol cars to circle the campus. Unlike other cities in Canada, Winnipeg appears to be a more thoughtful and tolerant community, and we are truly fortunate to have many friends who will stand with us. As Chief Ron Evans said, “I want to lend our support to the only democracy in the Middle East, to a country whose people have inspired us, to the people themselves who have every right to live in peace and security and to thank the Jewish community for being there for us.”


Bridges for Peace network of churches sent congregants and pastors from around Manitoba to the rally. Federation’s Director of Community Relations Shelley Faintuch told me that she was tremendously proud of the colleagues, volunteers and elected officials who worked with her to put the rally together.


The Campus gym was filled with Israeli flags – worn and waved – and the sounds of English, Spanish, Hebrew, and Russian.   Speakers were constant in their message of support for Israel and Israel’s legitimate response to the ongoing barrage of Hamas missiles and acts of terror. Consistent with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s stated position that Operation Protective Edge was undertaken to deal with Hamas not the Gazan civilians used as shields by Hamas, all speakers decried the loss of innocent lives on both sides of the conflict and expressed their hopes for a quick conclusion to the incursion into Gaza.  Unfortunately, the escalation of missiles and the need to destroy Hamas’ extensive tunnel network into Israel continue.


Federation is planning an imminent emergency solidarity mission to Israel at the request of Winnipeggers who want to support Israel on the ground. Details will be announced shortly; contact Shelley Faintuch [email protected]  for details.


David Kroft, President of the Federation Board of Directors, has often remarked that our community punches above its weight class.  Monday’s rallies and the upcoming solidarity mission reinforce Winnipeg’s uniqueness. The rallies were a shining moment in a depressingly grim couple of weeks.

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