“Try to imagine how you would cope with the constant sirens and bomb shelters with your family.”
Steven Kimmel, chair of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa shared the memory of a night he experienced in 2012 that was much like the ones so many Israelis have been living through in recent months and particularly since Operation Protective Edge began on July 8.
Sentiments of solidarity, mourning and activism were expressed by the more than 400 community members who gathered, August 6, for the Standing Together with Israel rally at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre.
“We would all have preferred that an evening of solidarity was not needed at this juncture,” Kimmel said. “But the tragic losses in Israel and the ongoing violence necessitate our coming together as a community once again.”
Less than a month after the last rally, both organized by the Federation and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the evening provided an opportunity for community members to reflect on the month-long conflict. The rally was held during a 72-hour cease-fire brokered by Egypt that began the day before. During the cease-fire, talks continued in Cairo aimed at establishing an ongoing truce.
Israeli Ambassador Rafael Barak said it is important to “take stock” of the facts and lessons learned during the past month.
“We learned that we are a strong democracy,” he said. “We learned that these terrorists will do anything in their power to claim innocent Israeli lives and that Hamas places no value on its own civilian population.”
Barak summarized the Israel Defense Force (IDF) statistics of both damage and triumphs that have been achieved since the beginning of open hostilities, including destroying 32 Hamas tunnels into Israel, more than 1,600 rocket-launching facilities, 191 weapons caches and 97 terrorist command centres, striking 4,700 terror targets, and killing more than 750 terrorists.
Barak noted the figures challenge those provided by Hamas but said he felt confident the “real picture” would be revealed in the coming days.
“We have all been left in grief, appalled and devastated by the innocent loss of life on both sides,” Barak said.
“Our reverence for life is stronger than [Hamas’s] culture of death,” Barak said. “We know the price of war. We continue to pay this heavy price to live in our homeland. We don’t have any other place.”
Among the stark reminders of war was the tally of dead: 64 IDF soldiers and three civilians were killed during Operation Protective Edge. The first among the civilians killed was 37-year-old Dror Hanin whose story was one of several read aloud by Jennifer Loome-Gencher and Manya Greenberg during a presentation that also remembered the lives of two soldiers lost by Israel during the operation. Loome-Gencher and Greenberg had been in Israel during the operation as participants in the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project mission.
The Ottawa Jewish community’s connection to the conflict was made even clearer when Ottawa Jewish Bulletin columnist Jason Moscovitz explained, via audio recording, his family’s connection to 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23, an IDF soldier thought to have been captured by Hamas, but later discovered to have died in combat.
Goldin was the brother-in-law of Moscovitz’s daughter Emmanuelle who lives in Israel.
“I have been around words all my life but it took up until that moment to fully understand the meaning of the word, ‘surreal,’” he said. “When his death was confirmed on Saturday night I was numb, thinking of all those who suffer such great personal loss in Israel.”
Goldin came from a lineage of committed Zionists. His grandparents made aliyah to Israel after surviving the Holocaust. Both Goldin and his twin brother Tzur served as officers in the IDF, and fought in Gaza at the same time. Goldin was engaged and had planned to marry in September.
“Filled with exuberance, religious conviction, strength of character, intelligence and loads of good looks, I can still see him… dancing his heart out [at my daughter’s wedding],” Moscovitz said.
Moscovitz had been scheduled to speak in person at the rally but travelled to Israel to be with family members there. His presentation was introduced by another of his daughters, Simonne Moscovitz, who eloquently reflected on her family’s connection to Goldin.
Several speakers at the rally also made it clear that Israel is relying heavily on its allies for both emotional and physical support, emphasizing and praising both Canada’s and Ottawa’s Jewish communities’ dedication to Israel.
“Here in Canada we, as a community, can take a great measure of pride in how we’ve managed over the last eight weeks,” said CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel, also referring to the anxiety related to the kidnapping of three young Israelis later found dead.
Fogel applauded the Canadian government and political leaders from the three major federal parties for their “moral clarity” and support, while highlighting CIJA’s continued efforts to engage the Canadian population through rallies, infographics, social media and its particularly successful Four Questions campaign, which reached an estimated 100,000 people.
Federation President and CEO Andrea Freedman further encouraged the community to get involved by staying informed and to engage with the media and politicians as an active participant.
“The past seven weeks have been agonizing, terrifying and humbling,” she said. “Raw emotions have made us all yearn for opportunities to gather together and invoke in all of us, a strong desire to make a difference.”
Freedman expressed her gratitude to those who had already donated to the Israel Crisis Fund, which has already raised $170,000. She stressed that 100 per cent of donations are allocated strategically and wisely.
“And so tonight, even as we mourn the devastating loss of Israeli lives, let us take steps to empower ourselves and translate our grief into strategic, united and positive action,” she said.
Freedman also invited the community travel to Israel in May 2015 with the Federation’s community mission or for the Dragon Boat Israel festival.
“We need you. And more importantly, Israel needs you,” she said.
“We realize that life is a partnership,” echoed Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka, whose closing remarks at the rally included passionate prayers for the state of Israel and the welfare of the soldiers defending it.
Emotions had swayed from tears and grief during the readings of soldiers’ biographies to empowerment and hope as Cantor Jeremy Burko led the assembly in singing “Oseh Shalom,” during which many in the crowd began to clap in time with the music and wave Israeli flags.
Donations to the Federation’s Israel Crisis Fund can be made by contacting Jean Myers at 613-798-4696, ext. 242, or firstname.lastname@example.org.