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Civic leaders celebrate Israel’s 70th Anniversary and civilization

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 Israel’s 70th Anniversary and civilization  – A diverse group of civic leaders gathered recently in Montreal to celebrate the founding of the state of Israel and its civilization. Beryl Wajsman’s Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal and Norman Simon’s human rights organization Canadians for Coexistence presented Israel: A Light Unto Nations in concert with Congregation Shomrim Laboker on Thursday, May 24th at the packed community synagogue in a quiet residential neighbourhood in Snowdon. Wajsman and Simon were the Masters of Ceremonies for the civil society event which ran behind schedule but otherwise was without incident.

Wajsman who is also the editor of The Suburban newspaper emphasized Israel’s resilience and role in constructing a free and democratic society in the embattled region of the Middle East. “Israel isn’t merely a geographic location,” he said. “It is a focus for justice, for everyone who believes in justice which is more important than social peace.” He drew the crowd’s attention to filmmaker John Curtin, seated not far from the podium. He urged everyone to see Curtin’s film Why the Jews? “a remarkable film about Jewish accomplishments and how we managed to get here.”  

Simon, a retired ESL teacher who spent several years in Israel as a member of the Israel Defence Force said that Israel had saved countless lives in Africa through water preservation and innovation bringing electricity and the Internet to the continent. “Our focus (is) on the many contributions Israel has given the world in the way of morals, cultural achievements, preservation of historical artifacts, research & development in high tech, start-ups, cybersecurity, agricultural innovation, water conservation, medical breakthroughs and the saving of lives with Israel’s search & rescue teams and field hospitals anywhere in the world where there has been a catastrophic event.”  

The evening featured an impressive roster of speakers who spoke from the ‘bimah’ or platform of the synagogue. Participants included the Israeli Consul-General David Levy, US Consul Robert Dhalke, Anthony Housefather, Liberal MP for Mount Royal, the Hon. Gerry Weiner, PC, former Minister of Immigration, the Hon. Marlene Jennings, former Liberal Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Marvin Rotrand, Dean of Montreal City Council and councilor for Snowdon, and Mary Deros, City Council member and former Deputy Mayor of Montreal, among many others. The free public event was billed as one of the largest gatherings of civil society leaders.

The Hon. Maxime Bernier, PC, MP, and former Minister of Foreign Affairs said, “It is a great privilege to be here with people of different communities to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary.” Bernier said he was proud to have been Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s foreign affairs minister. He stressed that while it is good to be an honest broker at the United Nations Canada must stand firm where the state of Israel is concerned:  “We don’t compromise or change our voting record at the UN. We must support a state that supports democracy, the rule of law, and civilization.” Bernier also praised Israel as a “start-up” nation highlighting its role in the R&D economy. “Israel is doing the most research in the world, bringing progress to the world,” he said.

The Hon. Kathleen Weil, MNA, Minister responsible for relations with Anglophone Quebecers highlighted the spiritual theme of the occasion noting the words “a light unto nations” came “straight from the Scriptures”. She said “members of the Jewish community have contributed brilliantly to the community as a whole” referencing the importance of the Jewish General Hospital. Speaking alternately in English and French she added, “Let us seize the opportunity and reaffirm the bonds of friendship that unite us.” Weil read a congratulatory message from her colleague David Birnbaum, Liberal MNA for D’Arcy-McGee who couldn’t be there because he was out of town on government business. She also recognized the riding’s former Liberal MNA Lawrence Bergman who was present at the assembly. 

The Hon. David Kilgour, PC, former Secretary of State for Central Europe and the Middle East posed the question on everyone’s minds, “What does Israel represent today for the world?” He reminded the audience that the ancestors of many Israeli citizens were Indigenous Jews forced to leave Palestine and Iran and spoke of the continuing need to combat anti-semitism despite criticism of the US decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He praised Israel’s contributions to technological innovation and commerce saying a new more hopeful era of cooperation was taking root in the Middle East because of the global economy.

Romanian Consul-General Ioana Costache said the milestone anniversary marked “70 years of uninterrupted diplomacy” between the two countries signifying “deep ties between our two peoples.” She said many Israeli citizens had their origins in Romania and emphasized Romanian influence in the Hora! the traditional Jewish wedding dance as well as Israel’s National Anthem. She said Romania is working on developing a museum of Jewish history and the Holocaust in Bucharest. Like other participants, she praised Israel’s contributions to science and trade.

Aram Elagoz, Laval city councilor and former executive member of the Armenian National Committee said to all those present, “I want to congratulate you.”  He spoke of the continuing relevance of the two communities working together to fight against genocide and the need for authentic education and outreach to schools to prevent the denial of genocide. 

Wajsman introduced Tony Loffreda, President of the Italian Community Foundation and Vice-Chairman of RBC Wealth Management as “my brother-in-arms in my work in the city and a great Montrealer” highlighting Loffreda’s work on behalf of 125 different causes and charities. Loffreda who has been lauded as a banker with a conscience spoke of his fund-raising work on behalf of the Combined Jewish Appeal, role as honorary treasurer of the Jewish General Hospital, and involvement with the Maimonides Geriatric Centre. “I talk for the Italian community, We’re very close to the Jewish community,” he said. “I always use the Jewish community as a role model for the Italian community. It’s about people, careers, nations. I am so impressed by the Jewish people.” He fondly recalled his trips to Israel and spoke about how his journey with the Jewish people connected to his sense of mission in life. He joked that as a banker he could say that he spent a lot of time looking for treasures and ended on a proverbial note: “The real treasures are the friends we make along the way.” 

By: Deborah Rankin – info@mtltimes.ca

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