By Mike Anderson

More than 50 people attended an evening vigil held Wednesday night at the ROC to remember the 1,200 victims of last weekend’s Hamas terrorist attacks and to pray for the return of 150 hostages still being held in Gaza.

“Unite for Israel” was led by Rabbi Yossi Vorovitch, director of the Chabad Jewish Centre of Georgina, who spent several days after the attacks consoling members of the local Jewish community, many of whom have friends and relatives in Israel, before organizing the vigil.

“It was the deadliest day for Jewish people since 1945, during the Holocaust. So this is extremely hurtful, extremely painful and raw,” he said.

“People feel very helpless. They feel there’s no way to help. The idea of getting together is to show our prayers, our good deeds, our thoughts are with them.”

While demonstrations across North America in support of the Palestinian cause, some of which openly support Hamas and celebrate the attacks, have shocked many people, the Rabbi says he didn’t intend to organize a vigil to counter their message.

“Unfortunately people are hateful. They’re hateful everywhere. My motive is not to counter them, but rather to show how we are unified and connected,” he said.

“Part of the motive of terrorism is to scare, to bring fear. And people are very fearful now. The idea of the event is that everyone should get together and unify as one. And when we are unified, terror cannot affect us. When we realize we’re all in this together and we support each other; it helps get us through.”

Rabbi Vorovitch sang prayers, read psalms, and asked everyone to light a candle to remember the victims. While most attendees were from the local jewish community, many non-Jews came to lend their support.

He also thanked Mayor Margaret Quirk and MP Scot Davidson for speaking at the event. While MPP Caroline Mulroney was unable to attend, her remarks were read by Health Georgina Chair Steve Jacobson.

Rabbi Vorovitch joined by Mayor & Councillors, MP Scot Davidson, YRP Supt. Edmond Villamere & Insp. Alice Tsang
Elisabeth and her daughter Isabelle light a candle. Photo: Tom Sandler
Zevin Zaldin

Mayor Quirk, who had the Town’s flags lowered to half mast, said it was important for her and Councillors Dave Neeson and Lee Dale to be there.

“We want to stand with our Jewish community and Israel to condemn the terrorist attacks that Hamas is doing,” she said.

“We have a large Jewish community and we want to show them that we’re with them. We sympathize with them, we’re outraged with them, and we want them to know that we’re both here in body and spirit to support them and to be with them.”

“They are seeing things that they never thought they would see again. So being here with the Rabbi and members of the Jewish community, and with members of the community that aren’t Jewish; we’re all one. We’re all one community. We have to stand together and condemn it and express our outrage.”

MP Scot Davidson echoed Mayor Quirk’s sentiments.

“This is about showing the Jewish community that I support them, our community supports them and Canadians support them,” Davidson said.

Davidson, like many of his colleagues in the House of Commons, was shocked by the brutality of Hamas, and didn’t hesitate to call it a terrorist organization.

“I think it’s important for people to hear that word. That’s what these people are. They come into people’s homes and kill innocent women and children. Shoot people indiscriminately at a music festival for peace. And throw grenades into bomb shelters. That is pure evil. It’s beyond the pale and Hamas must be eradicated.”

MPP Caroline Mulroney criticized recent pro-Hamas demonstrations, which have portrayed the Hamas insurgents as “freedom fighters.”

“Now is the time for moral clarity. Ontario denounces the antisemitism and hate we’ve seen at rallies in recent days from those who would have, would attempt to cast these barbaric acts as anything other than what they are acts of terrorism. These hate-filled rallies are a sad and solid reminder that there is work to do to eradicate antisemitism,” Mulroney wrote.

“Despite the strength and resilience of the Jewish community, all too often they continue to face acts of discrimination and violence. These past days remind us that now more than ever, we must stand united with our Jewish friends and neighbours, with the people of Israel, and the Jewish community here in Ontario.”

Jacobson, who condemns Hamas and its actions, was careful not to suggest that all Palestinians support Hamas, but he called out people in the community who have been posting pro-Hamas comments.

“We can’t be painting all Palestinians with the Hamas brush. Which is something that is happening and that’s not fair to all Palestinians,” he said.  

“But I’m very disappointed in some of our residents and some of the things that they’re posting online.”

“Most of us have friends or family in Israel, so it’s affected us emotionally. We fear for their lives and for their children.”

Kevin Zaldin, who is not a resident but works as a lawyer in Georgina, was pleased to see people attending the vigil and supporting Israel. But he stressed the brutality shown by Hamas can never be erased.

“It’s absolutely astonishing that human beings are doing this to other human beings. It’s good to see people gathering. But it’s not going to bring people back. It’s not going to cheer me up, but I feel I have to be here,” he said.

Zaldin says while it’s hard to watch the images on social media it’s important there’s a record of the brutality that was perpetuated.

“I think you have to watch it. Because if you don’t look at it then maybe you’re going to fall for the moral equivalence argument,” he said.

“The victims were not in the occupied territories, they were in Israel. They were just getting up, having a coffee, going to a music festival, celebrating a Jewish holiday.”

With Israel’s declaration of war, Hamas’ call for a “Global Day of Jihad”, and the growing fear the conflict may spread, there may be dark days ahead for Israel and Jewish communities around the world.

While Rabbi Vorovitch prays for peace, he admits it’s not possible now.

“I wish there was peace. We pray for it every single day. But how do I believe in peace after this?”

Still, he hopes that the power of prayer and the simple act of lighting a candle in remembrance provides some solace.

“A little light dispels a lot of darkness. When we see a lot of darkness, in which we feel desperate, we have to remind ourselves that a little candle, a little light, a little good, can dispel much darkness. And that’s part of the reason we made this vigil,” he said.