More than 13,000 people attended the annual Israel Independence Day rally in downtown Montreal April 20, with most of those in the crowd marching in unison from Phillips Square to Place du Canada – locations familiar to those who were active in years past with the Soviet Jewry movement.
As the marchers arrived they were greeted by singer/entertainer Benzion Rafaely and a group of dancers. People of all ages waved large Israeli flags in the bright sunshine which has accompanied this event for the last few years.
Organizers from the Jewish Community Partnership, notably co-chairs Amos Sochaczevski and Ariela Cotler of Côte Saint-Luc, made a conscious decision to keep the speeches to a minimum. Beryl Wajsman, the editor of The Suburban Newspaper and president of Montreal’s Institute for Public Affairs, served as the emcee and he managed to keep his promise and limit the speeches to about 12 minutes in total.
Israel Consul General Yoram Elron, Conservative Senator Leo Housakos (seen above with Saint-Laurent Councillor Maurice Cohen), Liberal MP Marc Garneau and Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay each touched on all of the right words as the crowd cheered loudly. Liberal MPs Irwin Cotler and Raymonde Folco were on hand, as were a number of municipal elected officials. This included Côte Saint-Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather, myself and fellow councillors Sam Goldbloom, Mitchell Brownstein, Steven Erdelyi and Dida Berku. Council meeting regular Irving Itman was on hand wearing a neat cap that said "Hawaii" on top.
“I see many more of you this year than last year,” said Elron. “This blue and white flag is a reminder that destiny is in our own hands.”
Garneau read a message from party leader Michael Ignatieff while Housakos, pinch hitting for Treasury Board president Stockwell Day, brought greetings from Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “Stephen Harper has been steadfast in his support of Israel, not based on anything but principles,” he stated. “He did not do so for political expediency.”
Mayor Tremblay remarked how “everytime I come here you say ‘thanks.’ The reason I come is to say thanks for being who you are.”
There was a heavy police presence, including officers on horseback, but no incidents.
“The Middle East has rough times for 62 years and we're here to show our support for the state of Israel," Sochaczevski told reporters.