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L to R: MLA Stefanson, her husband, MP Ben Carr, Premier Wab Kinew, MP Marty Morantz, Mayor Scott Gillingham

Reflections on the pro- Israel rally at the Asper Campus-Israeli teens visiting Gray Academy return to Israel but their town of Kiryat Shmona on border with Lebanon has been evacuated

by Rhonda Spivak, October 20, 2023


The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg is to be commended for organizing a rally for Israel on Octboer 10, that was attended by 2000 people, according to police estimates, which given the size of our Jewish community is a very impressive turn out. The turn out shows the depth of committment our community has to the State of Israel, and also the depth of shock, and outrage at the heinous program inflicted upon Southern  Israel by Hamas terrorists. (By comparison 15,000 people came out to an emergency rally for the people of Israel in Toronto).
And at the rally I thought of the high school kids from Danciger High School, Gray Academy's sister school, who are from the town of Kiryat Shmona, a town of 20,000 people who live right  on the border with Lebanon, knowing full well they could be evacuated if Iran's proxy Hezbollah tried to join in and attack Israel from the North. My fear has in fact come true. Danciger students have returned to Israel, but their city of Kiryat Shmona has been evacuated, and they are among the 200,000 Israelis who are internally displaced since the start of this war. It is unclear when the residents of Kiryat Shmona like so many other Israeli who have been internally displaced will be able to return to their homes (the evacuation of border towns has been extended to alteast Dec 31) , and how they will feel a sense of security knowing a well armed Hezbollah could unleash potential untold harm on their town (Note: At the time of this writing, sources have indicated that  President Biden prevented an Israeli-pre-emptive strike on Hezbollah in the north, fearing it could create a wider regional conflict, involcing Iran) It should be stressed that in 2000  Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon to the international border line and the only reason Hezbollah is attacking now is because it wants to wipe Israel off the map. (As an aside,  I was in Israel in  the 2006 war when Hezbollah attacked from the north,and in the intervening years Hezbollah has managed to upgrade its extensive rocket and missile arsenal, and has built underground tunnels that may well cross into the border with Israel.) The spectre that Hezbollah potentially could massacre Israelis in the north like Hamas did in the south is keeping the Israeli public awake at night. 
At the rally, the fact that representatives from Jewish community organizations were all present on the stage served to re-inforce that we are one in condemning the viscous attacks perpetuated by Hamas, which as a number of speakers noted, resulted than more Jews being murdered in one day than at any time since the Holocaust. Since close to half of the Jews in the world live in Israel, so many of us know of someone who has been injured , murdered, missing, or who miraculously survived the attacks, or has been called up to serve in the IDF as a result of  Hamas's barabaric attacks.
Gustavo Zentner, President of the Jewish Federation asked the crowd at the rally to take part in a moment of silence, and noted that Hamas's attack has been compared to "Israel's own 911" and "its own Pearl Harbour."
There were participants of all ages at the rally, including many young people--young people in their 20's and 30's who have never witnessed Israel in their lifetime  have to suffer such trauma. Young peopel in our comunity would not have been alive 50 year ago during the 1973 war, when Israel's intelligence failure led to a surprise attack by Egypt and Syria, with many IDF casualties, before with the help of US armaments Israel turned that war around. As bad as that 1973 war was, those who died in battle were soldiers, not civilians. In this case, so many who have perished at the hands of Hamas barbarians were civilians murdered in their homes-parents, children, babies, grandparents- who had nothing to fight back with, and of course, so many of the hostages, including former Winnipegger Vivian Silver, and  some 30 children, are innocent civilians, now living a hellish nightmare in the bowels of Gaza. 
At the rally, I draped myself in a very large Israeli flag, remembering that I got that flag when I was in Israel during  her 60th Independence Day, where I spent a glorious day celebrating on Tel-Aviv's beach. This time, however, I wore this flag with a sick feeling in my stomach, knowing that the body count of dead Jews and injured was rising by the hour, and that in the coming days and weeks ahead more of our people likely will be injured or lose their lives fighting to defang and dismantle the Hamas terror network inside Gaza. There are many Israeli immigrants in our community, who would feel acutely the trauma that had occured.
At the rally , my mind wandered to thinking abut a story I had heard on Channel 12 Israeli Television in Hebrew, about an attacker who burst into a kibbutz home where a defenseless mother and her two young children naturally feared for their lives. The invader looked in the kitchen and asked the mother if he could have a banana. A simple question. She answered, yes. He stayed a while and then said, "I can not kill you or your children. I'm a Muslim." And he left them unharmed. If only, if only, there had been more like him.
Ben Carr, Liberal MP for Winnipeg South Centre said at the rally  that the government of Canada is "steadfast" in its support of Israel and said recieved much applause when he said that we must condemn Hamas's actions unequivocally, "without having to insert at the end of that statement BUT." Carr also noted that the Canadian government was working "tirelesssly" to airlift Canadians stranded in Israel out of the country. Carr siad he was persent on behalf of Prime Minister Trudeau who unequivocally condemned Hamas's attacks  
Marty Morantz , MP for Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingly , said  Conservative leader, "Pierre Poilievre stands with Israel."  He described Hamas as " a genocidal murderous and evil death cult and they must be defeated," and  received loud applause when he stated, " Let there be no doubt. Israel is the ancient and indigenous homeland of the Jewish people. " He added,   "Israel has the right to defend itself against these attacks and respond against the attackers - as any other country would," noting there is no moral equivalency  between democratic Israel and the butchers of Hamas."   
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson (who is now MLA Stefanson) said at the rally  she stood with Israel and with the Jewish community, condemning Hamas's attacks. She also stated, "We recognize the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people and affirm our support for justice and freedom for both Israelis and Palestinians,"  and received applause when she emphasized, "However, there must be no mistake, Hamas does not represent these aspirations." 


Premier designate Wab Kinew (who has now been officially sworn in as Premier) said at the rally " Israel has a right to exist and that is not negotiable." He added "I condemn Hamas's acts of terrorism. I do not want to see any civilians, Palestinian or Israeli harmed, so I hope that every step possible is taken to protect civilian lives." 

Garri Sergienko, from Bridges for Peace left moved the audience when he made reference to a 2016 Bridges for Peace visit to kibbutz Kvar Aza on the border with Gaza, and that said that everyone they had met had been killed, wounded, or captured. He outlined the activities of his organization of Christians who will be helping Israel cope with the effects of the war in the coming days and weeks.
Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham told the crowd that the Esplanade Riel and the Winnipeg sign at The Forks have been lit in blue and white to honour Israel. He also spoke of the word "shalom" meaning not only peace, but "wholeness", and hoped Israel could heal so her citizens felt whole again.
Steve Kroft, Winnipeg's representative on CIJA (The Centre for Jewish and Israel Affairs) spoke of Israel's legitimate right to defend herself after such heiness attacks. 
There were prayers and songs for peace, sung  by Shaarey Zedek's Cantor Leslie Emery and the Ruach Choir and Cantor Tracey Greaves sung El Malei Rachamin, and the kaddish was recited.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.