Vancouver rallies for Israeli hostages while also remembering those killed on Oct. 7 by Hamas

A vigil in Vancouver to remember the hostages and those killed by Hamas, Nov. 7, 2023.

Members and supporters of the British Columbia Jewish community gathered in downtown Vancouver on Nov. 7 to demonstrate for the release of the 238 hostages currently being held in Gaza and to mourn the 1,400 killed during the Hamas attacks in Israel last month.

Local politicians, Jewish leaders and clergy made impassioned statements about the need for the hostages’ release, while members of the crowd, which congregated before the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery, waved Israeli flags and carried posters of the those kidnapped. 

Photographs of the hostages also appeared on a large screen behind the speakers at the event, along with the words “Bring Them Home Now.” Images of Israeli soldiers who have fallen since the ground offensive in Gaza began were shown on the screen as well. On the steps in front of the speakers were 1,400 candles to mark each of the lives lost on Oct. 7.

Vancouver native Ben Mizrachi was one of those killed by Hamas last month when he attended the Supernova music festival in southern Israel.  His death at age 22 remains a source of deep sorrow for many.

“Ben Mizrachi, who came from our community, who was murdered as he valiantly ran back into the fires to save others, representing us in the best possible way—doing what many of us would not be brave enough to do.  We remember you, Ben, 30 days after your death,” said Ezra Shanken, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.

Provincial and civic politicians then came to the microphone and spoke of the importance of standing in solidarity with the Jewish community and of Israel’s inalienable right to defend itself.

“When we talk about ‘never again,’” British Columbia MLA Michael Lee said, while employing the phrase connected to the lessons of the Holocaust, “I never thought that we would be at this point. That is the reason why ‘never again’ means now. I stand with Israel. We stand with you always.”

Lee, representing BC United, the province’s main opposition party, recalled his affinity for the Jewish community from a very early age.  As a child, after his family immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong, he attended preschool at the Jewish Community Centre in Vancouver and spent much time at the JCC while growing up. 

John Rustad, the leader of the BC Conservative Party, told the audience of his view of Canada as a melting pot—a place where discrimination, racism and antisemitism have no place. He also remarked on some of the unfavourable sentiments heard in Canadian public spaces against Israel in recent weeks.

“Israel has the right to exist. Israel has the right to defend itself. Israel has a right to be at peace. I will do everything I can to stand with you, to stand for peace and to make sure that people understand history,” he said. “Let us be able to stand together and speak against hate.”

Doug Longstaff, a United Church clergy, addressed the need for more support within the broader community for Israel and Jews in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks.

“No group has had power used against them for so long in such a variety of ways and places.  It is staggering,” said Longstaff, touching on the history of antisemitism, while noting that today there are more hate crimes against Jews than any other group in Canada. 

“We need to be especially understanding as gentiles of Israel’s right to self-defence as it is surrounded by terrorist groups that wish to destroy all Jewish citizens.”

Quoting from Edmund Burke, Longstaff added, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

Ending the vigil on a note of hope, Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Vancouver’s Temple Sholom said that in a week the month of Kislev—the month of Hanukkah and the month of light—begins.

“Our tradition has long taught that in the darkest moments to bring light we simply need to strike a match,” Rabbi Moskovitz said, referring to the hostages that have been released from Gaza. “I urge us, as our tradition has for generations, to not let the darkness block out the light, to find the rays of hope, and to be those rays of light and hope to each other.”

The vigil was organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, the Rabbinical Association of Vancouver, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and UnXeptable, a grassroots movement in support of a democratic Israel.