Yesterday (Tuesday, April 27, 2004), Anne and I went to downtown Montreal to show our support in a large celebration for the 56th anniversary of the State of Israel.
There were thousands in attendance.
A seemingly never ending line of busses packed with retirees, as well as busses packed with school children dropped off their celebrants at Phillip’s Square.
There were also the expected anti-Israel demonstrators which included an insignificant element of a radical fundamentalist Jewish fringe of Hasidim, whom in their convoluted world, believe Israel should not exist until the Jewish Messiah comes forward to lead Jews to the promised land.
Until this happens, the fundamentalists believe that all Jews in Israel should immediately dismantle their democratic government infrastructure, and submit themselves to Palestinian rule.
There were also the ever present Leftists (Jewish and otherwise) who support the Palestinians, and are against a successful Jewish State and anything American and business oriented.
Between both groups, there were no more than a couple of dozen people.
What surprised me most was the absence of Palestinian flags and Palestinian counter demonstrators.
As I stood in the crowd for a few minutes during the speeches, the sky opened up with a torrent of cold wind-driven rain, for which I was prepared with an oversized umbrella. Most people were so prepared. But not all.
Standing a few feet away was a gentleman who I motioned to join me under my umbrella. As it turned out, the guy was an Israeli currently living in New Jersey, visiting Montreal, who just happened to be in town at the time of the celebration.
Never in his wildest dreams did he expect to see such a huge and passionate crowd turned out 6,000 miles from his home, to celebrate Israel. He was flabbergasted.
To him and other Israelis like him, he knows that the Jewish communities worldwide support Israel’s efforts to survive, but not to this magnitude. Imagine what he’ll be telling his friends and relatives back-home in Israel.
The demonstrators brandished many signs in English and French, which mostly dealt with messages for PEACE. There were no hooded Jews screaming and chanting death to the Arabs. Nor were there AK 47’s being fired into the air.
All in all, this was pretty tame.
On the way back from the demonstration, I decided to walk along Ste Catherine Street. By this time the rain had stopped, the sun was shining, and I refurled the umbrella.
Walking before me were three young men in their late teens speaking a Sephardic French to each other. One of the young men wore a flag of Israel over his shoulders, much like a Superman cape.
They were happy with the day and themselves, strutting along, saying nothing to anyone other than to each other, when all of a sudden several young men in a car parked about 20 feet away began hurtling insults at the three Sephardim, especially at the young man draped in the Israeli flag.
The three Sephardim turned around in what was a definite gesture of belligerence, which invited a shouting match. The first thought in my mind was that there was going to be a fight.
The second thought in my mind, was that the Jewish boys were responsible for provoking this confrontation by so visibly flouting the Israeli flag.
Then I was STRUCK by an instant wave of personal SHAME!
Would I have thought the same had the three young Sephardic men been carrying an American or a Canadian flag? Definitively not! So why my knee-jerk reaction to the Star of David?
It’s conditioning. To our great detriment, Jews have seemingly forever been conditioned to remain invisible. Can you possibly imagine my personal shame, to have thought that being a visible Jew was somehow a provocation?
The umbrella which I held in my hand has a heavy solid wooden grip. So; instead of holding it by the grip, I flipped it over and held it by the shaft, rendering the grip a very efficient club.
And instead of being upset at the Sephardim with the Star of David, I focussed my anger at the bastards who took offence at them being visibly Jewish.
And instead of walking on, I stood near the car waiting for the physical encounter to erupt. But to my relief, as the three young Sephardic men walked towards the car, the car drove off with the anti-Semitic antagonists giving the finger.
The three young Sephardim laughed and continued along their way. I too went along my way still feeling a sense of shame.
I would have fought. Of that there is no question in my mind. But to have questioned the right of the three Sephardim to be visible Jews, and to mentally accuse them of being provocateurs as a result, will be something I will be fighting for a very long time.
Going toe to toe against the anti-Semites would in comparison have been simple
I relearned a very valuable lesson yesterday.
It is not enough to simply walk in a march and applaud speakers saying the things you want to hear. It takes far more than that to make a difference.
The three young men gave me a crash course in what it’s all about.