A Victoria rabbi is calling for peace as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas, leaving more than 1,600 people dead.
Early Saturday morning, the Islamic militant group Hamas initiated a surprise attack on Israel near the Gaza border. The attack came just one day after the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War.
Three days after the attack, a total of 1,600 people have been killed on both sides. The Israeli government has formally declared war on the group, calling up more than 300,000 reservists. Hamas has escalated the situation, saying it will kill Israeli hostages if Israel targets civilians.
“As we were 30 minutes outside of Jerusalem, [our tour guide] advised that a missile had been sent to Jerusalem,” said Louis Welch.
Victoria couple Louis and Tasha Welch had taken a cruise with a planned stop in Jerusalem for tourists to visit holy sites. After unloading and taking a bus, they were told they had to return to their ship after the attacks began earlier that day.
“The mood on the ship was quite intense…kind of felt like we were sitting like a sore thumb or like a sitting duck in a military port in Israel where there is a fight happening not 150 kilometres away and all this missile activity was happening,” said Welch.
The ship had to make an emergency stop in Türkiye but eventually returned to its regular course.
“Israel is a small country in some ways, so everybody knows someone who’s been personally affected,” said Rabbi Harry Brechner.
Brechner, who runs the Victoria synagogue Congregation Emanu-El, has been maintaining close contact with friends and family. He says they are safe right now.
“Most of my friends have kids who are just out of the army, they’re in their mid-20s. A lot of people are going back,” said Brechner.
“I think there’s a sense as Israelis that when things are difficult and there’s that kind of turmoil, you go home.”
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth wrote on X (Twitter) that police departments in the province are working closely to ensure there are no threats to members of the Jewish community.
Saanich police say they’re following suit.
“The Saanich Police have been in touch with leaders in the Jewish community and will have an increased presence in areas of religious significance,” said Sgt. Damian Kowalewich in an emailed statement.
Rabbi Brechner says he spoke with Victoria Police Chief Del Manak on the phone and that officers were patrolling his synagogue over the weekend.
“To know the communication lines are open and the fact that they were doing some patrols and extras patrols anyways was just really heartwarming,” said Brechner.
The rabbi says he’s not concerned with any threats locally.
“Victoria’s a pretty benign place.”
With uncertainty of when the war will end, Brechner is calling for a peaceful resolution.
“We can find ways to clear this in a way that’s more peaceful. Because my sense is that violence only brings more violence, and escalating isn’t going to help.
He also plans to host a prayer vigil where the public will be invited to attend.
“Enough innocent lives have been lost already.”