(Toronto) Thousands of people from Toronto’s Jewish community marched on one of the Queen City’s main thoroughfares on Sunday to show their support for Israel in the presence of a large police force and counter-protesters.

The United Jewish Appeal (UJA), a Jewish philanthropic organization, held its fifth annual “Walk with Israel.” The route of the demonstration extends over a distance of five kilometers in the north of the city.

Protesters waved Israeli flags and posters depicting those held hostage by Hamas since October 7.

The UJA predicted the crowd at 50,000, but Toronto police said they would not reveal their estimate until after the event.

The demonstrators were escorted by a heavy police presence. Much of Bathurst Street was blocked off in preparation for the march.

They encountered two groups of counter-protesters in the first hour of the event. Police officers parked a bus to block the view between the two groups.

Cries of “Free Palestine” and “Bring them back (the hostages)” intermingled when the two groups crossed paths at an intersection. Virulent remarks were exchanged. Police officers intervened to form a barrier between the two groups.

Several pro-Palestinian demonstrators encountered along the Jewish march route declined to comment. They chanted slogans opposing the Israeli army’s offensive in Gaza in retaliation for the October 7 attack.

According to UJA, the heavy security at the scene “is a sad testimony to the situation prevailing in the city at present.”

In an interview before the march, Noah Shack of the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto said he expected to see tens of thousands of demonstrators come to demonstrate their resilience against the “explosion of hatred” facing the community. Jewish Torontonians have been confronted since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.

Family members of hostages held by Hamas participated in the march.

Avichai Brodutch, whose wife and children were released in November, said it was “really important to come to Toronto, meet the community and tell Canadians our story.”

“It feels like home to be here and see everyone showing their support,” he said.

Toronto resident Maayan Shavit said one of her cousins ​​was still being held hostage by Hamas.

“We have known from the beginning that she is being held in an underground location. »

She would like to make the population understand that hostages should not be exchanged. “We don’t trade people. They are not soldiers, they are civilians. »

Groups claiming to represent Jews who oppose the Israeli invasion of Gaza have tried to encourage members of the Jewish community to instead sit with students at a pro-Palestinian encampment set up on the campus of the University of Toronto.

“For a growing number of Jews in Canada, seeing the continued siege and attack on Gaza being carried out in our name fills us with horror and pain,” wrote Jonathan Brown Gilbert, a graduate student at the University of Toronto, in an email sent Saturday.