Introduction: We have been following, with dismay, the steady reporting on anti-Semitic incidents in Toronto as reported in the CJN newsletter (which is the latest incarnation of what used to be Canada’s flagship Jewish newspaper). A little while ago we were contacted by a Toronto freelance writer by the name of Ori Belmont, who asked us whether he might be able to begin contributing articles to this paper.
We asked Ori to write something about the shocking rise in incidents of anti-Semitism in Toronto within the past couple of years – that seem to have risen with the advent of Covid.
Here is what Ori sent us:
The city of Toronto has long suffered through a shameful and sordid history of both violent and subtle forms of anti-Semitic activity. From incidents such as the barbaric Christie Pits riots which occurred during the depths of the Great Depression and Hitler’s rise to power, to the despicable diatribes and revisionist views and works of Ernst Zundel, the shine on the seemingly opulent city by the lake has long ago grown dull.
The recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks in Toronto has once again emboldened those who wish to isolate the city’s Jewish population. However, the response by the city’s Jewish community – compelled by, and fuelled with anger and the desire to educate the perpetrators of such heinous acts with information of an evidentiary basis – has galvanized us.
Jews in Toronto, according to the 2018 Annual Hate Crime Statistical Report commissioned by Toronto Police Services, continued to be victimized at a level that exceeded hate crimes which targeted other groups.
The report noted that of the all hate-motivated crimes in the city during 2018, 36% of them directly targeted the Jewish community. There were 50 such examples during the year.
On Wednesday, March 2, anti-Semitic graffiti that appears to be from the same perpetrator was discovered at three Toronto schools – Central Technical School, Rosedale Heights School of the Arts and Malvern Collegiate Institute.
The recent spate of anti-Semitism in Toronto has surged over the past few months. On February 8, a misguided group of students at Charles H. Best Middle School used construction paper to draw a swastika, apparently unable to grasp the gravity of the message that it conveys. Prior to this, students at the same school cornered a Jewish student and performed the Nazi salute. The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) no longer places an emphasis on teaching the significance of hate crimes on a mass scale as a part of its curriculum. These sordid and despicable acts are the result.
The TDSB is aware of a third anti-Semitic incident in February which involved a Jewish teacher. On February 17, a teacher at Valley Park Middle School in North York was surrounded by students who allegedly gave her the Nazi salute. She is a child of parents who survived the Holocaust.
In yet another act of anti-Semitism which occurred during the month of February, Pleasant Public School – located in the Bathurst and Steeles area, a pocket with a high concentration of Jewish residents – two students appeared to give a Nazi salute to a teacher. A letter was subsequently sent home with the school’s students that described this episode of hatred.
The school’s principal, Brian Fong, has said that the students in Grade 6 will take part in a session with an educator who speaks about anti-Semitism and the importance of heeding the lessons learned from the Holocaust.
“In terms of immediate action, we are in the process of arranging a program with Michelle Glied- Goldstein, a well-known and respected educator from “Carrying Holocaust Testimony” for all our Grade Six students.”
The ascending wave in anti-Semitic incidents at Toronto schools began in 2017. At Upper Canada College (UCC), two parallel investigations – internal, and involving the police – were launched from an incident that occurred on April 26, 2017. A student in Grade 7 observed that his locker was covered with anti-Semitic symbols. This is a systemic issue that must be addressed by adjusting the curriculum to ensure that children and teenagers fully comprehend the magnitude and implications anti-Semitism specifically, and of hate in general. B’nai Brith Canada, The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, and other prominent Jewish groups have made it abundantly clear that commonly used myths and tropes play a significant part in understanding why these acts take place.
It is not only public schools in Toronto that have seen an increase in anti-Semitism. For example, Eitz Chaim Hebrew Day School experienced at least three incidents in the spring of 2017. In addition to the usual array of vandalism with Nazi imagery adorning the property, astonishingly, a group of students threw stones at children who were doing nothing more than what we expect them to do at recess – enjoying themselves in the playground.
Ori Belmont is a freelance writer based in Toronto, Canada