Jonathan Gitlin, centre, participates in the Walk with Israel. (UJA Federation of Greater Toronto)
The UJA Federation of Greater Toronto is moving its annual Walk with Israel from the city’s downtown to North York, to celebrate the event’s 50th anniversary. This year’s walk will take place on May 20, with festivities beginning at Earl Bales Park at 9 a.m. and ending at the first-ever Bathurst Street Fest, which will run from York Downs Drive to Wilson Avenue until 8 p.m.
Federation decided to move the walk to Bathurst, in order to gin up excitement for the event and to pay homage to its historical roots (or should that be historical routes?). Steven Shulman – UJA Federation’s senior vice-president of corporate affairs, community relations and counsel – remembers doing the walk as a child in the 1970s, when it covered similar ground. But back then, it was 35-km long and took the entire day.
“So we bring it back to our historical roots, in terms of where it was. We also try to ensure that we have a walk going through the heart of the Jewish community,” said Shulman. “We walk right through neighbourhoods with significant Jewish populations and hopefully people will welcome us in their neighbourhoods and greet us and cheer on the walkers and participate themselves.”
By placing the walk in the heart of the Jewish community, Federation is making it more accessible for Jews from across the Greater Toronto Area, as the commute downtown may have dissuaded some people from participating in the past.
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Shulman said the walk typically attracts somewhere around 15,000 to 20,000 people, making it the largest single-day Jewish community event in Canada and the largest Israel solidarity walk in the Diaspora.
The past three years have seen higher turnout than the three years prior, so Federation isn’t moving the route to address declining numbers. The move for the walk’s 50th anniversary has been in the works for two or three years, but discussions began in earnest the day after last year’s festival.
“Every year, we have discussions about the future of the walk, and not just looking ahead for one year, but in fact looking ahead for a number of years, and how do we take this gem in our community, in terms of participation and community unity, and augment what we can,” Shulman said.
One of the changes discussed was the addition of the Bathurst Street Fest. Approximately one kilometre of Bathurst Street will be shut down for the festival, which will feature multiple performance spaces, a kids’ zone and food stalls.
The Walk with Israel’s route this year. (UJA Federation of Greater Toronto)
At least one local Jewish woman is considering doing her own part to raise money for the walk. Jodie Katz lives just east of Bathurst, near the route the walk will take. She plans to rent out her parking spot to someone from farther away who wants to participate in the day’s activities. She is also planning to mobilize other people in her neighbourhood to do the same, and contribute their earnings to the walk, as well.
Even if that initiative doesn’t end up coming together, Katz is a fan of the move from downtown to North York.
“It’s great from a logistics standpoint, not having to drive all the way downtown,” she said. “Even though it’s not a crazy drive, it’s always nice to stay closer to home.”