Cold can’t dampen spirit of Montreal Israel rally

MONTREAL — The morning’s snow flurries did not stop thousands of Montrealers from celebrating Israel’s 67th anniversary with a parade and rally through downtown filled with music and flag-waving.

Although the weather could have been more congenial, the midday Yom Ha’atzmaut event went off without a hitch.

The 13th edition of the rally drew about 3,000 people of all ages, who ignored the single-digit temperature and biting wind, many of them arriving on the buses provided by the organizers from several points around the city. The Jewish schools also transported many students to the site.

As usual, the festivities began at Phillips Square, where music blasted from a flatbed truck and participants picked up Israeli, Canadian and Quebec flags.

However, they did not head west as in the past, but east along Ste. Catherine Street to Place des Festivals in the Quartier des Spectacles. The usual venue, Place du Canada, is closed for renovation.

Amid heavy police and private security, the orderly revellers were led by members of a Jewish motorcycle club along the street, as they sang songs like Am Yisrael Chai.

Holding the Magen David proudly aloft in the front row was Israeli Consul General Ziv Nevo Kulman, taking part in his first rally here. Beside him was St. Laurent borough Mayor Alan DeSousa, a Pakistani-born Christian. 

A truck in the parade had panels screening electronic images of Israel.

At Place des Festivals, a stage was set up against the backdrop of the Université du Québec à Montréal, with a huge banner across the top reading, “The Partnership,” the name of the grassroots committee that organizes the rally, sponsored mainly by businessman Amos Sochaczevski and suggesting Jewish unity.

To the side was a Jumbotron that enabled everyone to see what was happening on stage, as well as messages from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. A cheer went up from the crowd when Harper pledged that “our government will always stand by Israel’s side.”

Nevo Kulman said, “I am proud of Canada. Israel has no better friend. And that support is nonpartisan; it comes from all parts of Canada.

“That is because we share the same values of freedom and democracy.” Israel, he said, is a democracy for all its citizens, Jewish and Arab.

He also had a “todah rabah,” thank you very much, for the Montreal Jewish community. “For better or for worse, in rain or shine, you are always there for Israel.”

Those were the only speeches. MC Jason Rockman from radio station CHOM kept things moving briskly, and the crowd was enthusiastic as he introduced cantors Yossi Pomerantz of Congregation Beth Tivkah and Daniel Benlolo of Ottawa’s Congregation Beth Shalom, the opening act backed by a band led by Yossi Milo.

The star was Israeli rapper Shay 360, whose high-energy performance and earthshaking bass notes kept the crowd, by now shivering, more than happy to comply with his command, “Everybody, jump, jump, jump.”

The show closed with a soulful rendition of Tfillah l’Shalom Hamedinah, the Prayer for the State of Israel, sung by everyone.

The only detracting element was the demonstration by men and boys from the anti-Zionist chassidic sect Neturei Karta, who gathered with large placards and Palestinian flags, first lined up on the sidewalk outside The Bay department store and later at the fringe of the plaza.

Police kept them well separated from the Israel supporters. Participants were exhorted in advance by rally organizers not to engage with the protesters.

A family-oriented Yom Ha’atzmaut party was held later in the day by Federation CJA in Dollard des Ormeaux.

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