Jewish Vancouverites and allies came together in grief and determination in a community vigil Monday night, Oct. 9, outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. (photo by Pat Johnson)
Several hundred Jewish Vancouverites and allies came together in grief and determination in a community vigil Monday night outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. The unprecedented terror attacks in Israel that began Saturday brought a large crowd to the public venue in light rain for an emotionally charged hour of prayers, songs and shared stories of tragedy and resolve. The uncertain fate of a young Vancouver man who had not been heard from since Saturday brought the immediacy of the tragedy home. Hours after the vigil, it was announced that the body of Ben Mizrachi had been identified.
“A piece of this community is missing,” said an audience member who addressed the crowd and identified himself as Adam. “His name is Ben Mizrachi.”
Mizrachi, who graduated from King David High School in 2018, was attending a music festival in Re’im, in southern Israel near the Gaza border. An estimated 260 people were murdered as terrorists invaded the event around 7 a.m. Saturday. Mizrachi had not been in contact with family or friends since, according to news reports and messages from Vancouver friends. Late Monday Vancouver time, it was announced that he had been murdered.
“Every one of us here is feeling grief, is feeling loss,” said Adam. “We are all individuals here, but we are one nation and our nation has one heart. We will look at these candles, we will look at the light, we will look at all the universes they stole from us and we will say, this light will drown out that darkness.”
Leslie Benisz, who spent his first 10 years in Israel, spoke of his own family’s tragedy.
“I have a cousin and her husband who, unfortunately, were killed,” he said, “and, still, at this moment, we do not know the whereabouts of her four children. They were living on a kibbutz near the Gaza area.”
Benisz said his mother, who passed away in March, had advice for times like these.
“My mother used to say, ‘We have to be better than those people who hurt us. Just because they hurt us, don’t do the same thing to them. Maybe even show a level of tolerance and compassion they failed to show us, because there is a fine line sometimes between becoming a human being and becoming an animal and we have to show that we are better than that.’”
A small group of provocateurs carrying Palestinian flags, kept away from the vigil by police, screamed and taunted attendees throughout the event, including during two moments of silence, and vehicles repeatedly circled the venue, their occupants waving Palestinian flags and honking horns. A rally – ostensibly in support of Palestinians – was held several hours earlier at the same location as the vigil.
Monday’s event was organized by Daphna Kedem, who is the lead organizer of UnXeptable Vancouver, though the event was not affiliated with any group. The ad hoc vigil was organized before the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver scheduled a community solidarity event for the following evening, Oct. 10. Coverage of Tuesday’s event, which took place after the Independent went to press, is now online at jewishindependent.ca.
Daphna Kedem, one of the organizers, told the Independent that bringing the community together as soon as possible for mutual support was their priority. While awaiting notification of an event by community leaders, Kedem said, her group decided to schedule a gathering with haste.
“We are not waiting around for the community,” she said. “This is urgent and time-sensitive.”
“We are in the west, but our hearts very much are in the east,” said Rabbi Dan Moskovitz, senior rabbi at Temple Sholom. “We hold our loved ones and our families in those hearts and we come together as a community to pray and to mourn but also with resolve and resilience.”
Speaking above taunts and screaming from protesters on the sidelines, Moskovitz continued: “That’s what we want: to live in peace, to live in our native land in peace, to be together as human beings. Too often, the world ignores us. Too often, the silence is deafening. We who stand here today, we make our presence to call the world to conscience and to see us, to see how once again our people are in danger, our people are being killed and murdered and the world must not be silent again. We will not be silent. We are strong, we are a people with a nation now for the first time in 2,000 years and it will not slip from our grasp, it will not slip from our hearts or our minds or our prayers.”
Ofra Sixto, chef-owner of the Denman Street Israeli restaurant Ofra’s Kitchen, recounted her story of being harassed and of having her life threatened three years ago during a different time of conflict between Israel and Hamas. Then she made a prayer for those missing and for the survivors of those murdered.
“Please God, make them all come back home soon,” she said. “Please God, put solace in the hearts of the people who lost their loved ones.”
Another speaker recalled a year living near the Gaza Strip and hearing the endless sounds of explosions.
“We are here tonight to remind ourselves and our people back in Israel that we are all one country, we are all one family, we are all together in this, united,” said another speaker. “Despite the tough year it’s been, with different opinions, we are all sticking together, especially when it gets tough. That’s our biggest strength.”
She then led the vigil in the song “Am Yisrael Chai.”
“My sister was sitting 13 hours in a shelter room and the terrorists roaming her kibbutz didn’t touch their home,” another speaker from the audience recounted. “It was a miracle.”
He added: “The one thing that our enemies cannot do is put a divider between the Jewish people and eretz Israel. Please remember that. There is no Jewish people without Israel and there is no Israel without the Jewish people.”
“This horrific attack was an attack on Israel,” said another member of the audience who spoke. “Moreover, it was an attack on all of those who value human life. I know that some people are of the belief that you are left to fight this battle alone. I’m neither Jewish nor Israeli and I’d like to tell you that there are millions of people around the world standing together with you. This includes me and many, many, many others.”
“We have a very simple message to the world today,” said Rabbi Shmulik Yeshayahu of the Ohel Ya’akov Community Kollel. “When we see those guys on the other side, and we see our crowd tonight, state proudly … we are human beings. We treat people fairly. We love Israel, we love humanity, we love the civil world.… We will never let terrorism take over. This is the message of Canada and all the Western world today.”
Yeshayahu lamented the hostages taken.
“We are talking about over 100 people, many of them little kids who were kidnapped, old people who survived the Holocaust and came to the holy land of Israel to live in a free country,” he said. “We are here for them.… No human being can stand by and see those bastards take little kids and kidnap 3-year-old kids and put them in a cage. This is not acceptable in 2023 and we are not going to be quiet about it. The eternal nation is not afraid of a long journey. We will defeat them.”
Rabbi Carey Brown, associate rabbi at Temple Sholom, said the prayer for Israeli soldiers in Hebrew, while a lone soldier who had served in the Israel Defence Forces a decade ago, shared the prayer in English. Rabbi Jonathan Infeld of Congregation Beth Israel led El Maleh Rachamim, the prayer for the souls of the departed.
After the main vigil, the Independent spoke with a number of attendees.
“With the horrors that happened in Israel, and all the innocents killed, bodies desecrated, kids getting kidnapped, I just had to come and show support,” said Adar Bronstein, who moved to Canada from Israel a decade ago. “I think local Jews and Israelis don’t really protest much. We’re actually quite a quiet society overall, so, when something as big as this happens, we have to make some sort of a stand. All my friends over there have been drafted and my Facebook page is full of my friends posting about their killed loved ones. My family is there and they are terrified. It’s been very, very difficult.”
“What brought me out tonight was seeing things that I didn’t think I would ever see in my life,” said Alex Greenberg. “This is my family, this is my people. I came just to show that people in Israel have support.”
Jillian Marks was huddled in a group of young women, some hugging and wiping away tears. The alumna of Vancouver Talmud Torah and King David is now a University of British Columbia student and president of the Israel on Campus club.
“We need to show that we are together, that we support each other in these times,” said Marks. “Just being here is a mitzvah and a blessing. I think it’s quite surreal. I have people fighting on the front lines. I have people missing. I have friends missing and friends hiding in bomb shelters. I’m just sad. But I’m grateful for the community here in Canada. I’m grateful we are all together tonight.”
A small group of Iranian Canadians waved the national flag of Iran – not the flag of the Islamic revolutionary government.
Dr. Masood Masjoody, a mathematician and activist against the Iranian regime, said he came “to show support for Israel and the Israeli people.”
He said he was surprised that anyone would be surprised to see him there.
“We’ve been dealing with the regime that has been behind these heinous attacks for more than 40 years – 44 years – so we know this regime more than any other nation in the world,” he said, referring to the Iranian regime’s support for anti-Israel terrorism.
There are many organizations through which people can donate to help Israel, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s Israel Emergency Campaign, at jewishvancouver.com/israel-fund.