Maureen Leshem’s 23-year-old cousin Romi Gonen was abducted by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7. Until last weekend, the Canadian didn’t know if her Israeli relative was still alive. Good news came from a freed hostage, though the latter also informed that Gonen suffered from gunshot wounds.
“You’d think by now she would be visited by the International Red Cross, treated by Doctors Without Borders, advocated for by the #MeToo movement or any number of international rights organizations,” Leshem said wryly, addressing an estimated 20,000 people at an Israel solidarity rally on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill on Monday.
“But Romi is Jewish, Israeli and a woman, and somehow that makes her less worthy of saving in the hearts and minds of leaders, social movements and those who run international human-rights organizations designed to protect women and children around the world,” she said.
“I implore humanitarian organizations: Do your job,” Leshem said. “Do not cherry pick your humanity. Support all of humanity, not just some.”
Jewish community members and non-Jewish allies from across Canada braved below-freezing temperatures to attend the outdoor rally. Crowds clad in winter-attire standing on snow-covered grounds intermittently chanted “Bring them home” and Am Yisrael chai, “the people of Israeli live.”
Students, rabbis from across the religious spectrum, parliamentarians from the Liberal and Conservative parties, family members of those murdered or taken hostage by Hamas and a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor were among those addressed attendees.
Raquel and Alain Look, parents of Alexandre Look, a Montreal native who was murdered at the Supernova music festival, made an emotional appeal to attendees.
“Let our son’s sacrifice not be in vain. Please honor his memory by standing up against the forces that seek to destroy the Jewish and the Canadian values we hold dear,” they said. “Let us send a powerful message that we will never tolerate terror. We will not let Jew-hatred fester in our society.”
‘A pogrom happened’
Anthony Housefather, a Liberal Party parliamentarian who represents an area in Montreal, referred to Jew-hatred in his own city, including firebombings of a synagogue and community center and two Jewish schools hit by bullets.
He and other Canadian politicians were in Israel the prior week to see the destruction at Kibbutz Kfar Aza.
“We saw bullet holes and blood trails, and heard from survivors stories of rape, torture and murder, and met with families of the hostages,” he said. “We did this so we could bear witness and say that a pogrom happened Oct. 7.”
Canada’s Jewish Federations, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and Jewish Federations of Canada-United Israel Appeal organized the event with support from other Jewish organizations nationwide. Organizers said the main objective was to convey that the Jewish community remains resilient, refusing to succumb to the pervasive antisemitism prevalent in the streets, campuses and online realms.
Speakers reminded the crowd of the shared values that bind Canadians and Israelis, including human rights, democracy and protecting innocent lives in the face of terrorism. They stressed the importance of standing together as a nation to support the people of Israel and uphold these fundamental values.
Melissa Lantsman, deputy leader of the Conservative Party and a parliamentarian representing Thornhill (Ontario), had harsh words for some of her colleagues. “More than 40 MPs have publicly called for ceasefire in the face of terror,” she said. “They’ve opted for mealy-mouthed platitudes.”
Lantsman, who is Jewish, also lambasted women’s groups for their silence about Hamas’s terrorists sexually assaulting women and excoriated universities that breed antisemitism.
“It is not over until those professors, who wrap themselves in woke progressive ideology and make Jewish students unsafe, are fired,” she said.
“Antisemitism is a great impersonator. Its current disguise is the social justice warrior wielding the popular sword of Israel condemnation,” said Iddo Moed, the Israeli ambassador to Canada. “It is armored also with effective weaponry: lies, misinformation, the double standard and the inappropriate and unfair comparison.”
‘We have to keep telling the truth’
Ohad Lapidot, the Canadian-Israeli father of Tiferet Lapidot, who was murdered at the Supernova festival, told attendees that his family “is committed to living 10 times more.”
“It was really important to see the love, the support and the solidarity of Jewish people in Canada,” he told JNS. “Keep your chins up I’d say. I think the youngsters who saw this rally won’t anymore be shy to be Jews. This is what I’ve seen.”
Though rallies help morale, “social-media warriors” play an integral part in the war effort, too, according to Lapidot.
“Public opinion is important. We have the tools with us, and we have to keep telling the truth—that we are under Nazi-like barbarian attacks and we should defend ourselves,” he said.
He told JNS that he experienced the strength of Jewish unity when strangers, both in Israel and the Diaspora, offered to help. Over the weekend, he met a Toronto man who kept a photo of Tiferet in his siddur and prayed for her.
“I don’t know his name. We’ve never met before, but I do know he’s Jewish and he’s family,” Lapidot said. “I lost my daughter, and he believes he lost a niece.”
Other family members of Oct. 7 victims and hostages attended the rally, including Maayan Shavit—a Torontonian whose cousin Carmel is being held hostage and whose cousin Yarden was released last week—and Dalia Ohayon of British Columbia, whose sister was murdered and whose niece’s half-siblings were taken hostage. One of the latter was murdered and the other was released.
Larry Weinstein, whose sister Judih Weinstein Haggai is the last known Canadian hostage, condemned the “cycle of violence.” He addressed rally attendees with his daughter Ali at his side. (Weinstein Haggai lived in Toronto for 20 years.)
‘What if that was your daughter?’
“I represent millions of Christians by saying never again will we be silent when you are mistreated,” said Leonor Ward of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. “Never Again is now.”
Karen Restoule, an indigenous community leader, also voiced support. “I, too, come from a long line of people who struggled to fight discrimination, hatred and displacement,” she said. “I empathize with you.”
She added that “Jews are indigenous people of the Land of Israel from time immemorial, and I am proud to stand with you now and forever.”
Avideh Motmaen-Far, president of the Council of Iranian Canadians, said her “heart shattered in pieces” at the “vandalism, online bullying, death threats, Jewish boycotts, banned menorahs. This wonderful community has been through enough.”
Many of her fellow Iranians asked her to convey their support for Israel, she told attendees.
“We know what the evils look like. We have been fighting them for the past 44 years,” she said, apparently referencing the Iranian ayatollahs. “We have the so-called progressives that were justifying the acts of Oct. 7. I urge them to visit Tehran. Visit the same kind of destruction and monsters that perpetrated Oct. 7.”
To stand with the Jewish people, she pledged to light a menorah and put it in her window.
Caroline D’Amore, the non-Jewish CEO of Pizza Girl, came from Malibu, Calif., to explain that she began doing advocacy work when she grew disgusted at the antisemitism she saw her friends have to endure.
“I received thousands of letters of gratitude, and I realized there weren’t enough people standing up. All these young women who were raped, and not one of the women’s rights movements have spoken up? I’m just appalled,” she said. “What if that was your daughter? I’m a mother, and what horrors if people were cheering that girl being captive and raped.”
Having stood up for gay rights and Black Lives Matter, D’Amore said she “felt so betrayed and confused why there are not enough people speaking up for the Jewish community.” She was shocked to see that the reaction to Hamas’s terror attacks was “to harass people on the streets and on the campuses, and to be silent.”
“It’s not about being Jewish. It’s about being human,” she said.
‘Where the hell are all the mayors now?’
“Today, I’m Jewish,” said Denis Coderre, former Montreal mayor and former federal immigration minister, emphatically in a brief speech.
He took colleagues to task, demanding: “Where the hell are all the mayors now?”
“It’s not a time just to support us when there’s an election. The time is now, to say that Israel has a right to exist and to defend itself,” he said.
Other non-Jews on the dais included Canadian political commentator Rex Murphy and Christian Lebanese Arab-Israeli Jonathan Elkhoury.
The morning of the rally, all 17 of the buses that the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto hired from a particular company didn’t show up to transport supporters to the rally.
Given the company’s absence and subsequent silence, the Federation is “driven to the view that this shameful decision is intended to disrupt our peaceful rally out of hatred toward Jews,” stated Adam Minsky, the group’s president and CEO.
A CIJA spokesperson named the subcontractor as Mohammed Ashfaq, of Prestige Worldwide Transportation Network LLC.