Monday, May 21, 2012

Thousands walk for Israel

Toronto hospital researcher Judith Elbaz praised Canada’s tolerance towards Jews before embarking on Monday’s seven-kilometre United Jewish Appeal walk.

“We are very happy,” the Mount Sinai Hospital researcher, who was born in France, said of the life she and husband Uriz Elbaz, 38, an opthemologist, have with their four children.

“I like Canada very much,” said Elbaz, 34, who came to this country from Israel 11 months ago on a fellowship. “It’s a very welcoming country, where people can be friends from different cultures.

“In France, it’s not like this,” she said at Confederation Park.

And the local Jewish community “are very nice people,” Elbaz added.

The 44th annual UJA walk, which organizers announced attracted more than 10,000 people, raised more than $500,000 for several disadvantaged areas in Israel before participants — including infants, seniors and dogs — spilled onto Lake Shore Blvd. sidewalks at 10 a.m.

With many carrying Israeli and Canadian flags — and Toronto Police stopping traffic at several intersections — walkers enjoyed sunny skies along Queen’s Quay, then along York and Adelaide Sts.

The event was peaceful, but as in previous years, a small group of protesters were waiting, carrying signs including “Jews against Israel’s war crimes,” “Gaza. We will not forget” and “Wall Apartheid.”

There was a brief confrontation after several flag-waving walkers crossed Queen’s Quay, but as police officers watched nearby, it ended peacefully.

Considered one of the world’s largest Israel solidarity events, the event began in a temporary bandshell with guided warm-up exercises and songs featuring Canadian R&B and hiphop artist JRDN.

Soon to leave Canada, Amir Gissin, Israel’s consul general here and in Western Canada, told the crowd he was “privileged to be in Toronto for five years, where the friendship between the two countries is important.

“Canada is Israel’s best friend,” he said.

Pulling twin daughters May and Neta, 3, and daughter Eden, 1 1/2 in small carts, annual UJA walker Karen Croitoru, 32, said she and husband Haniel came “to support Israel and the Jewish community.”

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