The weekly rally for Israeli hostages at the Vancouver Art Gallery Sunday, Feb. 18. (photo by Pat Johnson)
Family was the theme at the weekly rally for Israeli hostages at the Vancouver Art Gallery Sunday, Feb. 18, the day before British Columbians marked the Family Day holiday. Speakers took to a stage at the edge of the gallery’s north face out of respect for a makeshift memorial to Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who died in custody two days earlier.
“Family Day will be celebrated here tomorrow,” said Daphna Kedem, organizer of the weekly vigils for the hostages. “But this year casts a heavy shadow over the day for some families of our community here and in Israel…. It is difficult to be happy when families are waiting to be reunited with their loved ones, or for many families who have lost their loved ones.”
Dr. Michael Elterman, a psychologist, spoke of the psychological effects of what is happening in Israel and worldwide.
“We see the indescribable anguish in the families and we easily feel ourselves in their shoes and intuitively imagine what we might feel if that happened to us,” he said. “There has developed a related construct of post-traumatic stress disorder over the past decade … this is the sadness, anger and sometimes spiritual distress that arises from moral outrage. It is a broader set of reactions that arise even when the individual themselves were not present at the trauma but rather are morally outraged and left furious and depressed by events. This is even more likely where we identify so strongly with those who are personally impacted by Oct. 7.”
This anxiety is heightened by increases in antisemitic rhetoric and attacks, including in Vancouver.
“Some of you may be experiencing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, such as disturbed sleep, intrusive thoughts, trouble concentrating and being easily startled,” Elterman said, adding that help is available through Jewish Family Services and other resources. Getting involved in the community response can help ease feelings of helplessness and he directed people to the Community Toolkit on the website of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.
“Remember to practise self-care in small ways, like proper nutrition and sleep,” he said. “Continue to do the things you previously enjoyed, even if you don’t feel like doing them. Finally, hug each other a little longer and a little tighter.”
Aviya Kones, who works at Jewish Family Services, spoke not about the services offered by that organization, but about the people of Kfar Aza, where she grew up.
“Kfar Aza was a desert oasis,” said Kones. “It was home, it was love and life, it was filled with unique and quirky and hilarious traditions and it was generations of family. It was also savagely and brutally destroyed after countless and seemingly endless hours of horrors.”
Her own childhood home was destroyed on Oct. 7.
She shared memories of three people who died that day.
“Smadar, a year above me, was tall, slender, so elegant,” she said. “Even as a child, I recall looking up to her. She had big, beautiful brown eyes and thick brown hair. I remember being awed by her grace, kindness and gentle nature.
“Nadav was two years older than me,” she said. “He knew how to make everyone laugh in every situation – not at anyone’s expense but maybe his own.
“Yoav was my age group,” she continued. “He had blue eyes, blond hair and a genuine smile. All the girls thought he was cute and all the guys wanted to be his best friend. He was shy, kind, creative and athletic. He loved his family. He was so close with his parents, his siblings and the many, many cousins he had living on the kibbutz.
“All three, amongst many others, tragically, brutally and with unimaginable cruelty, lost their lives on Oct. 7,” said Kones. “They were living in our beautiful oasis, our safe place, our home. They are survived by a broken and mourning community, generations of family that absolutely adored them and … all three were also survived by their young children. Nadav had two daughters, Smadar had three children and Yoav was a first-time dad to a little girl who was only 10 days old on Oct. 7.”
Rabbi Jonathan Infeld, senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel and head of the Rabbinical Association of Vancouver, said that Oct. 7 was not just an attack on Israelis or those living in Israel.
“It was indeed the beginning of an attack on the entire Jewish people,” he said. “It was a catalyst for antisemitism across the world that we have felt even here in Vancouver…. Too many of us have felt the antisemitism that began to boil over on that day.”
Gordon Shank, a First Nations member, a business innovator and a survivor of the Sixties Scoop, which saw Indigenous children abducted from their families and placed with white families, spoke of the centrality of family and the trauma of separation.
“I’ve known the pain of separation from family, being torn from the embrace of loved ones, albeit under different circumstances,” he said. “The Sixties Scoop and the current crisis in Gaza might stem from vastly different contexts yet, at their core, they resonate with the universal cry for the right to family, to unity and to belonging. This parallel is not to equate the experiences but to underline the shared understanding that every individual deserves to grow, to dream and to thrive within the warmth of their family’s love.”
Of the hostages and their families, Shank said: “Their pain is our pain. Their hope is our hope. Let our gathering today send a powerful message that we stand together across cultures and histories, united in our resolve to bring the hostages home.”
The march through downtown streets that has been a feature of the weekly events since October will be a monthly activity only for the coming weeks, Kedem told those gathered. The crowd then moved to the sidewalk adjacent Georgia Street for a demonstration, with a brief disruption by an individual waving a Palestinian flag.
Kedem has organized the weekly events since October and, early on, affiliated with the ad hoc international group Bring Them Home which, in turn, is affiliated with the Hostage and Missing Families Forum, in Israel.
Recently, Kedem also associated her activities with another international group, Run for their Lives, which encourages groups as small as a single individual to demonstrate solidarity with Israel and its hostages by walking, biking or running.