Montrealers called for the immediate release of hostages in Gaza during a rally on Oct. 29

Montrealers rally to free the hostages, Oct. 29. 2023

Insistent chants of “Bring them home!,” “Shame!,” and “Am Yisrael Chai!” seemed to summarize both the passion and anguish persisting in Montreal’s Jewish community and others around the world since Hamas massacred 1,400 Israelis and took more than 220 hostages just over three weeks ago, triggering an Israel-Hamas war that has no end in sight.

Those mixed feelings were shared Oct. 29 by almost 10,000 at the Bring Them Home Rally in Victoria Square, just adjacent to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations agency in Montreal.

“I’m a hair trigger of emotion,” rallier Lissa Albert told The Canadian Jewish News. “I go from anger to tears all the time.”

Police and security measures were on full display at the event, hosted by Federation CJA and sponsored by more than 85 community organizations.

Rally organizers came prepared. Participants draped themselves with large Israeli flags, while also on hand were hundreds of hostage photos, blue ribbons for Israel, placards, and T-shirts all bearing the “free them” plea.

Montrealers rally to free the hostages, Oct. 29. 2023

Few if any Palestinian colours were visible, and the event included members of other communities sympathetic to Israel’s situation.

While the crowd at the rally seemed discouraged by recent events, it also seemed absolutely resolute in the determination to have the hostages freed.

Over the last few weeks, as several speakers noted, the number of antisemitic incidents has mushroomed and become more explicit. Students on campuses have been insulted or spat upon for wearing a kippah or a Star of David, while official statements by academe have sought to explain the ‘context’ for the current situation in the face of unspeakable torture inflicted on civilians from infants to the aged.

Speaker Rabbi Reuben Poupko of Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation would have none of it.

“The context of Hamas is one thing only: to murder every living Jew in the world,” he said.

Other speakers voiced similar sentiments, their remarks delivered at a podium perched atop a flat-bed truck in the heart of the square.

Mount Royal Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, for one, who heads Parliament’s Israel friendship group, along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently met students at the YM-YWHA to discuss antisemitism. He met with hostages’ families in Ottawa on Oct. 30.

Former Montreal mayor Denis Coderre criticized the current mayor Valerie Plante for being virtually silent in the wake of the havoc in the Mideast. Coderre, who has been to Israel a number of times, was cheered for remarks that heaped praise on the Jewish community and Israel and called for the immediate release of the hostages.

Gail Adelson-Marcovitz, national chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), spoke of the “unfathomable acts” committed by Hamas, and the moral lines that are supposed to go “uncrossed” in war.

Hamas “crossed them all” in terms of barbarity, she said.

Other speakers included former Liberal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, Israeli consul-general in Montreal Paul Hirschson, Quebec federal Conservative senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, D’Arcy McGee Liberal MNA Elizabeth Prass, and Patrick Essiminy, a vice-president at Federation CJA, who introduced the speakers.

Prass spoke of the vital need to free the hostages and vowed to never cease from defending the State of Israel.

Cotler, for his part, advocated for an urgent “call to action” that could hold Hamas legally accountable for its horrific actions.

Hirschson said while the Holocaust may be over, “we’ve been through it once and we’re not going there again.

“We need you [the Jewish community] for the long weeks ahead.”

After the rally, Federation CJA and CIJA issued a joint statement. “We saw today, members of the Jewish community and allies denounce, with one voice, the deplorable use of civilians—including children—as hostages,” CIJA vice-president Eta Yudin said.