More than 70 years after she escaped the gas chamber at Auschwitz, 86-year-old Betty Toporski came to Phillips Square on Tuesday to celebrate the founding of the state of Israel 66 years ago.
Toporski joined thousands of members of Montreal’s Jewish community in a boisterous march from Phillips Square to Place du Canada on Israel Independence Day. Thousands of blue and white Israeli flags swayed in the breeze as participants of all ages marched along René-Lévesque Blvd. at lunch hour.
“I’m an old woman but I have to come and give my support,” said Toporski, who once worked for Oskar Schindler, the entrepreneur who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories.
Toporski said it’s important that she and her fellow Jews come out each year to support Israel. “It’s the umbrella of the Jewish people,” she said.
Before the march began, excited schoolchildren gathered in the square waving flags and soaking up the atmosphere. Music blared from a loudspeaker as revellers danced in the square.
Jon Frajman, 12, was there with his classmates from Herzliah High School, draped in the Star of David.
“If we didn’t support Israel, we wouldn’t have a place to call home,” Jon said.
Joseph Davis was attending his first Israel Day rally and was beaming as he looked out at the large, happy crowd that had gathered in Phillips Square. “It’s nice to see a happy demonstration,” he said.
Howard Staviss, who volunteers at the rally most years, said being a Jewish person is the best thing in life. “You have a belief and a cause,” he said.
Across the street from the rally in Place du Canada, about 15 ultraorthodox Jews protested against the existence of Israel, as they do each year.
A line of police officers kept the marchers away from the protesters, who were denouncing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
Rabbi Baruch Arbramovitz, of Hebrew Academy, was also on hand to make sure his students stayed clear of the protesters.
“They represent a very small minority and we are here to celebrate a great day,” he said.
By Montreal Gazette