Thousands march up Bathurst against anti-Semitism

Ralliers approach Eglinton Avenue on their way north to Bialik Hebrew Day School. ARIEH SINGER/UJA FEDERATION PHOTO

TORONTO — A sea of several thousand bodies, young and old, coursed up a dusky Bathurst Street the evening of Aug. 20, many carrying glowsticks, wearing blue and white or waving Israeli and Canadian flags in proud defiance of what much of the Jewish community feels is a resurgence of global anti-Semitism. 

Organized by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto in partnership with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai Brith Canada, JNF Canada, Canada Israel Experience and March of the Living Canada, the candlelit walk, titled “We Will Not be Silent: A March Against Global Anti-Semitism,” began at 8 p.m. in front of Holy Blossom Temple on Bathurst south of Eglinton Avenue and concluded just south of Glencairn Avenue in the courtyard of Bialik Hebrew Day School.

Amid the crowd were a number of contingents from various Toronto synagogues bearing large banners. 

Police lined the street and helped direct the mostly stalled traffic, though no counter-protesters were in appearance.

On the heels of two previous indoor rallies hosted by the federation, the march marked the third demonstration, and the first one outdoors, that the organization has co-ordinated since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas. It was designed as a peaceful, but powerful display for supporters of Israel and Jewish people in Toronto.

“There were two overriding motivations for tonight’s march,” explained Steven Shulman, campaign director at UJA. “One is that there’s been an explosion of anti-Semitism worldwide resulting from the [ongoing Israeli-Palestinian] conflict and the second is the demonization of the State of Israel… We believe it’s important for the community to come together and be out on the streets in a very dignified way, but also in a strong way, to make a statement about these two issues of great concern.”

Participants gather before the march at Holy Blossom Temple

He added: “These issues are of concern not just to the Jewish community but to the entire democratic world.”

As the mass of marchers flooded into the Bialik lot at around 9 p.m., a short roster of speakers addressed the audience from a stage adorned with a banner bearing the slogan “We will not be silent.”

The speakers included Israel’s consul general to Toronto and Western Canada, DJ Schneeweiss; Holocaust survivor Bill Glied; Leora Nash, a fellow with the federation’s Toronto Diller Teen Fellows Program; and journalist and documentary filmmaker Martin Himel.

Schneeweiss thanked the Toronto Jewish community on behalf of Israel for coming out to express opposition to hatred and anti-Semitism, and emphasized that Canadian Jews should take pride in their government’s “clarion call” to challenge terrorism and anti-Semitism.

He spoke about the fear held by many Jews that the current rise of anti-Semitism is eerily reminiscent of anti-Semitism in recent history, and concluded: “The answer to this threat is to live our lives, not to be deterred or to give up our views and not to be defined by those who hate us… We march as the living and we march to be able to live.”

Glied gave an impassioned address referring to the current rhetoric against Israel as “not anti-Israel but crass Jewish hatred.”

He stressed that we cannot be “bystanders to evil… like those who stood by during the Shoah, and must bear the share of guilt of the Nazi perpetrators.”

He called for the “silent majority of the world” to speak up against contemporary anti-Semitism, and ended on a positive note: “The optimism that kept me alive through the [concentration] camps assures me the Jewish nation will live forever. We are an eternal nation. We’ve survived the Crusades, Hitler… we will survive in democracy and freedom forever.”

Nash, a student at the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, talked about her recent trip to Israel as a Diller Teen Fellow, recounting the experience of hearing sirens and spending time in bomb shelters.

“The summer was not what we expected, but it was an amazing experience,” she said. “[The other fellows and I] made it our mission to spread laughter and joy everywhere we went.”

Himel – a former Mideast correspondent for both CTV and Global –  spoke last, addressing what he said is a lack of reporting on the anti-Semitism inherent in Hamas’ doctrine, anti-Semitism among some involved in the Free Gaza protest movement and the “intimidation tactics” Hamas uses on foreign journalists.

“I dare major news agencies to come out and at least admit they’re intimidated,” he said. “I’m not saying they’re reporting lies but why not just say they’re being intimidated?”

He also referred to what he said is a disproportionate focus on the war in Israel.

“Yes, war is sanctioned butchery, but this myopic focus on Israel? When Israel’s pulling the trigger there’s a civilian [death] count. When the U.S. or Britain is pulling the trigger it’s the ‘bad guys’ against the ‘good guys.’ Not everyone [who criticizes Israel] is anti-Semitic, but there is definitely an undercurrent to this myopic focus that is anti-Semitic.”