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Toronto Jews, Officials Rally After a Spate of Anti-semitic Vandalism

March 23, 2004
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The Jewish community here is trying to rally after a rash of anti-Semitic incidents.

Unknown perpetrators broke seven stained-glass windows at the Pride of Israel Synagogue and spray-painted swastikas and anti-Semitic messages at various locations along Bathurst Street.

United Jewish Appeals signs in the city also were defaced and swastikas were painted on a clothing donation box.

The damage was discovered Saturday morning.

In a separate incident discovered early Sunday, 22 cemetery tombstones were toppled in the nearby Bathurst-Lawn Jewish Cemetery.

“We had a weekend of hate in Toronto,” said Bernie Farber, executive director of the Ontario region of Canadian Jewish Congress, after inspecting the damage at the cemetery with police on Sunday morning.

Members of the Jewish community and supporters gathered at one of the vandalized homes Sunday morning to remove swastikas and hate messages.

The Jewish community is considering posting a reward, according to Farber, and a community rally was scheduled for Wednesday evening.

“We’re not intimidated but we’re certainly angry,” he said. “The community is on edge. We’ve faced adversities for countless generations. We’re a strong people. We’ll deal with this and we’ll do what we have to do to protect our community.”

The incidents took place only days after vandals spray-painted swastikas and hateful messages in a Jewish neighborhood in the Toronto suburb of Thornhill.

Canadian officials were quick to express their outrage.

“As prime minister, I condemn them,” Paul Martin wrote in a letter to the Canadian Jewish Congress. “As a Canadian, as a human being, I condemn them.”

Law enforcement officials pledged to investigate the attacks.

“I couldn’t believe the damage — I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Michael Bryant, the provincial attorney general, one of numerous officials to survey the cemetery destruction.

The provincial government “is going to do everything in its power to end any campaign of hate, however isolated,” Bryant told JTA.

In response to the first spate of vandalism, Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino ordered all patrolling officers to pay special attention to Jewish establishments and organizations.

Fantino visited the cemetery Sunday morning and expressed outrage at the gravestone desecration.

“This is disgusting,” he said. “It means there are people with hate in their hearts who think that there is a level of permissibility for this. These are cowardly acts of attempted intimidation. The entire community, not just the Jewish part of the community, will be watching very closely from now on.”

The incidents rekindled disturbing memories to many Holocaust survivors who attended a memorial service Sunday marking the 60th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary.

“Anti-Semitism to me is like a cancer,” said Irving Roth, a 74-year-old survivor who attended the ceremony. “Once you have it, you have to be vigilant.”

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