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Vandals Smash Multiple Windows at Canadian Synagogue

The Toronto Police Service (TPS) is investigating after five windows were smashed at Kehillat Shaarei Torah (KST) in North York during the early hours of Friday, April 19.

This is the first attack of this type on a synagogue in Toronto since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel and ensuing Gaza war, and comes amid continuous months of reports of ever-increasing levels of antisemitic incidents in the city.

According to KST’s executive director Michael Gilmore, the reality of such an attack reaching Toronto communities, and a synagogue here, felt sad and somewhat inevitable.

“It’s very much a feeling of sadness [that] the community is now going to have to deal with this, that there are people that are going to come to their morning minyan and they’re going to see their synagogue with broken windows and it’s going to elicit a lot of pain and a lot of inner fears that we just have in our subconscious as Jewish people,” Gilmore told The CJN on Friday afternoon at the site of the Bayview Avenue house of worship.

While The CJN was on location, workers were replacing broken window panes ahead of Shabbat and Passover.

Gilmore also has his suspicions about the timing of the incident, which took place hours after Israel struck at military targets in Iran on Thursday evening—a retaliation of Iran’s drone and missile attack launched at Israel on April 13.

“I can’t draw conclusions, but they somewhat draw themselves.”

Gilmore says there’s no question the attack was a hate crime.

“The reality of the situation is we were the victim of an antisemitic crime and we’re not the first, we’re definitely not going to be the last, so we have to move forward, and we have to be positive, but be proactive as well,” he says.

Smashed windows

Security video shows that someone approached the building after 3 a.m. Friday morning and smashed a number of windows.

“They kind of walk down the building and then took a hammer and smashed the north side windows first,” he said, pointing to where the main entrance is located.

That person then “went around [and] attempted to smash the main door” but didn’t get through, he said. Gilmore said the person with the hammer then smashed three windows on the building’s east side, facing Bayview Avenue. He says they did not try to enter the building.

“It appeared to be just vandalism,” and willful destruction, said Gilmore.

The broken windows triggered the alarm and the company sent a security guard. Rabbi Joe Kanofksy arrived around 4 a.m. Gilmore came next. A Toronto police constable followed, arriving by 7:30 a.m.

TPS confirmed the vandalism is under investigation.

“On Friday April 19, 2024, at 3:52 a.m., police responded to a Break and Enter call at a synagogue in the Bayview Avenue and Fifeshire Road [area],” wrote a police media relations officer, Caroline de Kloet, in an email to The CJN. “Officers located numerous windows damaged. This is an active and ongoing investigation.”

Hate crime unit working on the case: synagogue

Police did not at press time confirm that the incident was being classified as a hate crime, nor that the Hate Crime Unit is leading the investigation.

However, Gilmore confirms that the force’s Hate Crime Unit is working with the synagogue. KST has turned over security video footage to the police, he says.

“[Three officers] came to the scene and they identified themselves as from the Hate Crime Unit,” he told The CJN.

“They’ve been incredibly helpful, the hate motivated crime unit who’s working with us, from as soon as they got here,” he said. A forensics team had also been present to take photos and evidence.

“I think the main cause is to strike fear [when] any type of vandalism occurs, especially against the Jewish community,” he says. “It is to make you feel unsafe… that impacts every aspect of your life. That’s what I believe the goal was, especially with the timing.”

He says the Hate Crime Unit’s visit tells him TPS is paying attention to the incident.

“The police investigation will go through… the fact that the hate motivated crime unit has taken [this] on in the first place says a lot,” he says.

Security in place

Gilmore says the synagogue has had security cameras in place for some time, and administrators were now planning to meet to discuss upgrades.

“We’re going to be speaking with the executive and the board of the best way to prevent this from happening again.”

Kehillat Shaarei Torah applied for and in the fall of 2023 received an Ontario Anti-Hate Security and Prevention Grant. Gilmore said KST also applied to the federal Communities at Risk: Security Infrastructure Program for funding, but had not yet received a response from Ottawa.

“If someone wants to vandalize your building, it’s going to get vandalized. But we are working on rebuilding what was broken and trying to create a deterrence.”

Previous incidents targeting Toronto’s Jewish businesses or institutions since Oct. 7 include a fire, broken windows and “Free Palestine” graffiti found at International Delicatessen Foods in January, which TPS is investigating as a suspected hate-motivated arson. In the summer of 2021, antisemitic graffiti was found painted on Beth Sholom Synagogue during a rash of antisemitic incidents around that time.

Synagogues in Fredericton, Montreal (where multiple attacks occurred), and Surrey, B.C., have also been vandalized since Oct. 7.

Jewish community asked to be vigilant: UJA

Late Friday, news of the targeted Orthodox synagogue reached the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s vice president in charge of countering antisemitism and hate, Noah Shack.

“We stand with Kehillat Shaarei Torah in the wake of this sickening crime,” Shack told The CJN. “This is yet another example of a synagogue in our city facing the kind of threats and dangers that no community should have to confront.”

Shack called on the wider Toronto community to show its support for their Jewish neighbours, and to make it clear “Jew hatred has no place here.”

While UJA’s own security team works with the synagogue and police on this incident, Shack is encouraging Jewish community members to “exercise healthy vigilance.”

“If you see something, please say something by reporting it to police.”

They also are asking anyone who lives near KST and has security camera footage that may assist the investigation to please contact Toronto police without delay.

Resilience

At Kehillat Shaarei Torah, a Kabbalat Shabbat service scheduled for Friday evening was scheduled to go ahead as planned, as well as a bar mitzvah on Saturday. Michael Gilmore had a message for the vandal.

“It’s [done] to strike fear and to make people afraid to go to synagogue. But that will not happen–and I understand if some people do not want to come to certain Jewish events because it is scary–and that is a very real fear and completely understandable,” he said.

“But we should also acknowledge that we can’t let fear win.”

Source: https://thecjn.ca/news/five-windows-were-smashed-at-a-the-kehillat-shaarei-torah-synagogue-in-north-toronto-police-are-investigating/