Like many churches and synagogues across Canada, members of the Shaarei Shomayim synagogue in Toronto have been holding daily services via the video conference app Zoom since the COVID-19 outbreak.Rabbi Chaim Strauchler said their prayer services have been held without incident, but that all changed April 19.
“Our congregation has been doing [this] since the COVID crisis began. We pray on behalf of doctors and front-line workers, and on behalf of the world. We pray for an ending of this disease and the finding of a cure,” Strauchler told CBC News.
“It was specifically at that moment of the service that five or six additional accounts came on … They all began one after another to scream out slurs … really intense, hurtful things.” Strauchler said as the attackers screamed, they used their screens to show pornography.
“[They were screaming] a lot of things relating to the Holocaust, things like ‘gas chambers’ and ‘Hitler was right’ — just derogatory stuff toward the Jewish people.”
Strauchler said there were about 20 people in the Zoom service. Many of them left immediately.
He explained that for many of them, there was an element of shock and “a recognition that antisemitism, which they knew intellectually was out there, it’s something that was in their face, it was now touching them personally in some way.”
“On that call there was a great grandmother who never experienced an antisemitic incident before in her life. On that call there was a Holocaust survivor who didn’t know what happened, didn’t know what was going on.
“There was a bar mitzvah boy, a 13-year-old young man, who was also on that call,” Strauchler added.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has condemned the incident saying antisemitism, hatred and division have no place anywhere in Canada.
“I condemn the attack on virtual services at Shaarei Shomayim in the strongest possible terms,” he wrote in a statement to CBC News.
“It was a cowardly, offensive and deeply inappropriate intrusion on what should have been a moment of prayer, quiet contemplation and renewal.”
Mendicino, who is also MP for the riding of Eglinton–Lawrence where the synagogue is located, said as the Jewish community and people of all faiths have had to find new ways, and often virtual ways, of worshipping because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this incident is a reminder that everyone must guard against anti-Semitism in all its ugly forms, wherever it may occur, including online.
“t’s being investigated as a hate crime” Toronto police spokesperson Meaghan Gray said.