Montrealers celebrate Israel
Largest ceremony of its kind in Canada
Montreal’s Phillips Square was awash with blue and white Tuesday morning as the city’s Jewish community gathered to celebrate the state of Israel’s 65th birthday.
Dozens of school buses unloaded students, families and the elderly into the downtown park in what is the largest ceremony of its kind in Canada.
“I’m a very proud Canadian, I’ve had opportunities to move to Toronto, to Winnipeg, to Calgary, but I always say: ‘La joie de vivre, c’est à Montréal,’ ” said Michael Sheck, who was born in a liberation camp in Germany shortly after the Holocaust.
Sheck wore a Canadiens shirt that had the team’s name written in Hebrew under its iconic logo. He also held an Israeli flag alongside Quebec’s Fleurdelisé in his left hand.
Marc Eisenberg brought his children to the celebration and emphasized the importance of preserving their Jewish heritage. Eisenberg spent a sabbatical year in Israel, where his children became fluent Hebrew speakers.
“The beauty of Israel is that you have such a huge percentage of the population who speak Hebrew with an accent,” he told The Gazette. “They learn the language later in life.
“Israel comes out of the ashes of the Holocaust and while we celebrate today, its important to remember the fallen. That’s why yesterday was a day of remembrance for those who died in war and in terrorist attacks.”
Like many of the young attendees of Tuesday’s ceremony, Einsenberg’s children attend Hebrew Academy — a school that immerses its students in French, English and Hebrew education. Schools like Bialik and other Montreal Jewish institutions were well represented at the march.
The crowd left Phillips Square following a flatbed truck that featured a band of teenagers playing upbeat versions of traditional Jewish songs. Almost everyone waved an Israeli flag, with many children wearing it as a cape. Some had the Star of David painted on their faces as they marched toward Place du Canada.
Just a few feet from the statues commemorating Canada’s war veterans, Israeli rapper SHI 360 ramped up the festivities with a mix of hip hop and traditional music.
“This is a day that makes us all very proud to be Jewish, but also a reminder that we should be committed to peace in the (Israel) region,” said Carmella Aigen, who was born in a village between Tel Aviv and Haifa. “It’s great to see families and kids here, to see this being passed on.”
JERUSALEM — Israelis celebrated 65 years of independence Tuesday, with more than a million people pouring into national parks.
As flags fluttered from windows, street lamps and buildings across most of the country, families braved whipping winds and rain to indulge in the holiday’s traditional pastime — the park barbecue.
At formal state celebrations in recognition of the military, the country’s leaders kicked off festivities to the tune of old pop standards, reminding their countrymen of the Jewish state’s adversaries as air force jets cut across the skies of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
President Shimon Peres said Israel must remain vigilant against militant groups at its borders — Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
He also said wars fought by the Israeli army were justified and described Iran’s clerical leaders as “mad.”
Military chief Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz said Israel’s army will continue to defend its citizens until “the day that peace comes.”
Congratulations poured in from around the world, including from Washington.
“A free and independent Israel has had no greater friend and ally than the United States,” U.S. President Barack Obama said. The festivities come just one day after the country mourned its war dead during its annual Remembrance Day.
The striking contrast between the sombreness of Remembrance Day and the joy of Independence Day is intentional, meant to remind Israelis of the sacrifices made to create and defend the Jewish state, which is then celebrated with ecstatic joy.