TORONTO — A thousand members of Toronto’s Jewish community came out Thursday evening to a rally in solidarity with Gil-ad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach, the three missing Israeli teens believed by Israel to have been abducted by Hamas.
At the gathering, which took place at the local Schwartz/Reisman Jewish community center, speakers and audience members alike expressed full-throated support for the Jewish state and the IDF, as well as gratitude for the current Canadian government’s backing of Israel.
The event was organized by the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, the city’s Jewish umbrella organization, and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs — CIJA.
“This was an opportunity to do something,” Steven Shulman, UJA Federation Campaign Director told The Times of Israel. “We can’t actually search for the missing teens, but we can show solidarity with the boys’ families and with Israel and show that we care.”
UJA campaign chair David Matlow identified with the missing teens’ families. “These children are our children. It is frightening that there has been no sign of life so far, and one can’t but think of the five years that Gilad Shalit was held captive,” he said.
Lee Buckman, head of school at Tannenbaum CHAT, a community Jewish high school, put a hopeful spin on the Shalit comparison. “These [kidnapped] boys are old enough to have witnessed the efforts to free Gilad Shalit, so they know that when one person is missing, the whole Jewish world is mobilized to care,” he suggested.
Beyond serving as a show of concern for the missing teens and their families (including Naftali Fraenkel’s aunt, Ittael Fraenkel, who addressed the gathering by video), the rally was an opportunity for the Jewish community to express its “collective indignation and outrage at the kidnapping, and to draw the attention of the wider Canadian community to the true nature of Hamas,” according to CIJA senior vice president Howard English.
“We know that Hamas is behind this cruel attack. Hamas is not a partner for peace. It is an enemy of peace and therefore an enemy of everyone in this room,” DJ Schneeweiss, consul general of Israel to Toronto and Western Canada, told the crowd.
Keynote speaker, human rights activist and Member of Parliament Irwin Cotler received a standing ovation following his address, in which he called Hamas a “manifestation of genocidal anti-Semitism.”
Schneeweiss and Cotler both extended thanks to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government for their support for Israel. “The world is with us, and leading the pack is Canada. Canada is the beacon that shines the brightest on the international stage,” said the Israeli consul.
The crowd burst into applause at the mention of Harper by local MP Mark Adler. He reported that he had discussed the kidnapping of Shaar, Fraenkel and Yifrach with the prime minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, and that they put the responsibility of returning the teens without delay on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Adler added that Canada would only deal with the new Palestinian government if it also disarmed Hamas, disarmed other Palestinian terrorist organizations and militias, and destroyed all weapons stockpiles in Gaza.
“Canada will judge the new Palestinian government by its actions, not by its words,” Adler asserted.
Among the 1,000 rally attendees were many young people who admitted they were not following the news or political arguments. Nonetheless, they were clear on why they had come out to be counted among Toronto’s supporters of Israel.
“There are rallies like this going on all over the world and there’s a huge social media campaign. It’s good that everyone is making a big deal of this,” said 15-year-old Ally Harendorf.
Maya Shapira, 16, just wants to see the teens return home safe. “They’re not soldiers. They’re kids just like us.”