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Around the Jewish World in Toronto, Shaken Community Calls on Authorities for Protection

April 19, 2004
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The longest sustained anti-Semitic attack in Canadian history.

That’s how Bernie Farber, executive director of the Ontario branch of the Canadian Jewish Congress, sums up the recent barrage of attacks against Jewish targets here.

In response to those attacks, Jewish officials have mobilized to step up security at schools and other institutions — and to ask Ontario’s provincial government to supplement the police budget to cover additional surveillance and patrolling of Jewish sites.

“Until now, the community has taken care of its own security needs, but” the financial burden “is becoming onerous and it’s having a significant impact on the community,” Farber said.

“We shouldn’t have to bear these costs alone,” he said. “This is a unique situation faced only by Jews. We pay taxes like everybody else and we’re as deserving of protection as anybody else.”

Toronto Jewish officials had hoped that the rash of anti-Semitic incidents in March would cease after three teenagers were arrested for desecrating the Bathurst-Lawn Cemetery.

But vandals have struck three more Jewish cemeteries in southern Ontario since then — including Toronto’s 155-year-old Pape Avenue Cemetery, the oldest Jewish cemetery in the province. More anti-Semitic incidents also have been reported.

According to Farber, quick action is required to extinguish these sparks of hate.

“We need something right away,” he said. “It’s like a fuse burning out of control. We need to stop it hard and fast, and we can best do that with the assistance of the provincial government. We need them to be partners on this.”

Earlier this month, a United Talmud Torah elementary school in Montreal was firebombed, destroying the library. Many say there never has been a more pressing need for additional security at Jewish day schools in Canada.

Yet parents already face a “maximum financial burden” as they cope with steep religious-school tuition, said Ed Morgan, chairman of the Canadian Jewish Congress’ Ontario branch. Increasing police budgets would relieve the pressure on parents to shoulder the additional cost needed to protect their children, he said.

“Security is a police matter,” he said. “We trust the police. We want them to do it.”

Farber, Morgan and representatives of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto met April 15 with the province’s attorney general, Michael Bryant, and its minister of community safety and correctional services, Monte Kwinter.

“Both ministers were very understanding of our situation,” Morgan said. “Of course, they didn’t write a check for more police resources on the spot, but they indicated that they would take the issue to their Cabinet colleagues and see what they could do to direct more resources to the problem.”

Bryant also reportedly gave assurances to the Canadian Jewish Congress that anyone caught perpetrating anti- Semitic attacks would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

For years, a Canadian Jewish Congress committee has been working quietly behind the scenes, assessing and improving the community’s security needs.

The large advocacy organization B’nai Brith Canada also has sent security and counterterrorism experts into many local schools and synagogues. B’nai Brith’s security analysis should be ready soon, according to Frank Dimant, the group’s national executive vice-president.

Both organizations acknowledge that much needs to be done to shield Jewish institutions from malevolent acts by homegrown anti-Semites or agents of international terrorism.

“I think we’re looking at millions of dollars that have to be spent to try to provide a better security system for the community,” Dimant said.

“Right now you have some synagogues that will have some security personnel in place on Saturday mornings,” he said. “But what happens Saturday afternoon? What happens the rest of the week? I think there are lots of other issues that don’t lend themselves to being discussed in the media at the moment. But let’s just say we have a lot of homework to do.”

Officials of both organizations assert that in the post-Sept. 11 world, community safety must not be compromised.

“I don’t want this to become a dollar-and-cents issue,” Farber said. “Whatever it costs, it’s worth it.”

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