A rabbi at a local synagogue recently defaced with a symbol of hate says the incident has strengthened the community’s resolve to bridge relations between religious communities and spread awareness and education.
On Aug. 4 officials at Beth Tikvah Synagogue in the Bayview and Finch area discovered a black and red swastika and the phrase “Islam will rule” on an exterior brick wall of the synagogue’s Hebrew school, Robbins Hebrew Academy.
In the days following the discovery, congregants came together in a show of support for the community, says Rabbi Jerrod Grover.
“We had a lot of people come to synagogue because of this attack,” he said, adding the members are still returning weeks later.
Grover said the synagogue, which began as a small community congregation in 1964, had experienced a similar incident years ago.
“That’s what is so shocking, we’re not used to this, the neighbourhood is not used to this.”
Though the markings could be the work of “some punk with a spray can”, the rabbi noted that the swastika appeared to be a stenciled image that was created with more effort than a scrawl.
“The problem is, we don’t know what this is,” he said.
Grover said it was important that the congregants be made aware of the incident, and within an hour of discovery a statement was sent via email to every synagogue member.
Following the attack, synagogue officials also held a series of meetings to evaluate security around the premises. They are now in the midst of conducting further reviews. But the rabbi concedes there are limitations to what can be done.
“We could turn this place into Fort Knox if we want to, but it’s going to cost a lot of money.”
Beyond security measures, Grover said the incident has been a call to action in reaching out to the community and strengthening ties between Jews and Muslims.
Grover said he received many letters of support from the Muslim community — including the executive director of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations — condemning the vandalism.
According to Toronto Police’s 2010 Hate and Bias Crime Statistical Report, the Jewish community remains the most targeted identifiable group for reported hate crimes in Toronto, with the majority of offences related to property crime.
In a posted transcript of a sermon delivered to congregants days after the incident, Grover said the community has been wounded by this criminal act.
“I think all of us have lost perhaps a naivete about this being a peaceful, happy, quiet and safe neighbourhood,” he said.
But he urged congregants to focus on the good, “particularly because as loud and as powerful as this vandalized message was intended to be, our reaction and the reaction of many wonderful people in this neighbourhood and in this city has been far louder.”
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