Israel’s 9th president, Shimon Peres, was given a hero’s welcome as he entered the Shaare Hashomayim (Gates of Heaven) synagogue in Westmount yesterday to a packed house of 1800 well-wishers.
Peres was joined by a who’s who of diplomatic, political and community leadership including the Israeli ambassador to Canada Miriam Ziv, the Canadian ambassador to Israel Paul Hunt, Mount Royal Member of Parliament Irwin Cotler, D’Arcy McGee Member of the National Assembly Lawrence Bergman, Israeli Consul General Joel Lion and many more.
Cote Saint-Luc Council was well represented by Councillors Dida Berku, Ruth Kovac who proudly shook the President’s hand, Mike Cohen looking on from the media balcony and myself. I was proud to deliver a token gift on behalf of Dr. Hartley Stern, Executive Director of the Jewish General Hospital.
Huge crowd greets President Shimon Peres in Montreal
Shaare Hashomayim Rabbi Adam Sheir praised the close relationship between Montreal Jewry and the State of Israel going back generations. He listed the impressive leadership that visited his congregation including Golda Myerson, 20 years before she would become Israel’s first Prime Minister, as well as President Chaim Herzog, General Moshe Dayan, Prime Minister Menachem Begin and then Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
“We celebrate Montreal’s strong ties to Israel. We take great pride in the Jewish State and in its accomplishments. For generations we have stood with Israel. It is only in Israel where the People of the Book are also known, in the words of President Peres, as the People of the Facebook,” the Rabbi said to great chuckle. His invocation was both inspiring and uplifting in praise of the President and the State of Israel.
Music conductor Stephen Glass, Cantor Gideon Zelermayer and the Shaare Hashomayim choir were called up to deliver a stirring and melodic blessing for the State of Israel.
President Peres responded with humour how pleased he was to be at the Gates of Heaven. He added that his official visit to Canada was a “Voyage of profound and sincere friendship”. In unfailing French he thanked Canada for a warm welcome. He added that Montreal was the most dedicated and active community in the founding and development of the State of Israel. ”Jerusalem salutes you.”
“Our land is so small, it is just a statistical error by comparison to Canada. I see your lakes and rivers and I’m jealous. We have only one river. It is richer in history than water. We have two lakes. One is dead.”
“We were outnumbered, outgunned, not supported, not accepted,” Peres said. ”The greatness of Israel is that we started with nothing. When you have nothing, you may discover the greatest thing in life: The human being.”
” We were always numerically inferior. Always being challenged. There isn’t another country in the world that has faced such challenges.”
With regard to the War of Independence, Peres remarked, “Ben Gurion said, ‘I don’t know if the Israeli army is the best in the world, but I don’t know of any army in the world that is better than Israel’s.’”
Of Jews and Israel, Peres said, “We were born to seek peace. The Ten Commandments remain our guide after 3500 years. We don’t exist to threaten or to rule other people. We are here for Tikkun Olam, to create a better world for all.”
“The DNA of our nation became invention and technology. 25% of Nobel laureates are Jewish. This is a gift to the world.”
“Another gift of the Jewish People is dissatisfaction. We’re never satisfied,” the President proclaimed to great laughter. “So we strive for more. To do better. To aim higher.”
Security was extremely tight around the Shaare Hashomayim with dozens of plain clothes police from RCMP and Israeli agents, uniformed Montreal Police, and many private security agents. Seen here the motorcade with more than 25 motorcycle escorts, many limousines and an ambulance speeds off through the streets of Westmount.
The Twittersphere was abuzz with mentions of @PresidentPeres and #PeresinMtl.
At 88 years of age Shimon Peres remains unrelenting in the pursuit of peace. His speech was historic and illuminating.
Watch the entire speech on Federation CJA’s website.
I was privileged to have met and spoken with Shimon Peres in the mid 90s in Jerusalem.