Toronto marked a half-year of Israeli hostages being held in Gaza with a public event called ‘Six Months in Hamas Hell’

The scene at the 'Six Months in Hamas Hell' rally at Toronto''s Nathan Phillips Square on April 7, 2024. (Credit: Samantha Goodman)

Six months to the Oct. 7 date of the Hamas attack, rallies in Canada’s three largest cities demonstrated support for Israel, with crowds hearing from speakers that included politicians, rabbis, community leaders—and some family and friends of hostages suffering their 183rd day in captivity.

“Six Months in Hamas Hell” was the name of the event at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square, where the first speaker was Yoav Shimoni, who recounted discovering the graphic video of his grandmother, Bracha Levinson, after terrorists broke into her home at Kibbutz Nir Oz. 

“I immediately went to check Facebook and it was the worst thing I could have ever imagined,” said Shimoni, who was unable to attend her shiva, while it took months for her body to be identified.

“This wasn’t just something that happened on the 7th,” he said. “As you all can see, it’s because it has been six months of families in Gaza being tortured, not seeing daylight, being starved to death, and many more horrific things we cannot even imagine.”

Signs were provided with the words ‘Let My People Go Now’, a phrase attendees were encouraged to chant these words between hearing from a series of speakers outside Toronto City Hall. 

Pierre Poilievre, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, made an appearance in Toronto during a weekend of appearances focused on the Jewish community.

The presumptive challenger to Justin Trudeau in the next federal election pointed to the rise in antisemitic incidents in Canada including firebombed synagogues, harassment of schoolchildren, and threats directed at Jewish hospitals.

“We know that the Jewish people are the aboriginal people of Israel who have been on the land for thousands of years and will be there for thousands of years from now celebrating Purim, celebrating Shabbat, celebrating Passover and the voice of the echo will always go out: Am Yisrael Chai,” said Poilievre. 

Other politicians in attendance included Polievere’s deputy leader Melissa Lantsman, downtown Toronto independent MP Kevin Vuong, provincial MPP Goldie Ghamari, and city councillor James Pasternak.

The second half of the rally highlighted speakers who had a personal connection to hostages and the ongoing war.

Ayelet Levitan read a letter from her relative Orna Neutra, whose son was taken captive by Hamas. 

Omer Neutra is from Long Island, New York, but he enlisted in the IDF as a lone soldier, which he felt obligated to do as a descendant of Holocaust survivors.

“We remember him cheering for his teammates even when the games weren’t going their way, we remember how he brought out the best in people and encouraged them to step up,” said Levitan.

“We are surrounded by the community that he built, that is fighting for him, that is not giving up on him.

“We won’t give up on you, Omer, we love you.”

Mayan Shavit and Bar Cohen De Zwirek spoke about Carmel Gat, a loved one currently being held hostage in Gaza—who has become known for teaching yoga and meditation to her fellow captives.

Bar Cohen De Zwirek speaks at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square on April 7, 2024. (Credit: Samantha Goodman)

The rally was also attended by local allies from other communities: Albanian, Argentinian, Azerbaijani, Brazilian, Chinese, Christian, Colombian, Hindu, Persian, Ukrainian and Vietnamese group members had their supportive presence noted by organizers.

Christians Support Israel sign prominent in the crowd at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square on April 7, 2024. (Credit: Samantha Goodman)

Donna Holbrook has been to Israel over 40 times in her life. The national director of the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem in Canada spoke about the work the group has done—which includes fundraising for emergency aid, reservists, frontline workers, bomb shelters, and PTSD programs with medical staff.

Holbrook said her organization also arranged solidarity missions with church leaders, so they can see firsthand what happened in the south of Israel.

The only person Toronto Police reported arresting at the protest was David Menzies—a pro-Israel reporter for Rebel News—who was charged with breach of recognizance and trespassing, based on his allegedly “disrupting a group of individuals as they were demonstrating.” A court date is scheduled for May 16.

Parallel rallies were held Sunday afternoon at Cummings Square in Montreal, and outside the Vancouver Art Gallery.