For the third time in less than a month, Eitz Chaim Schools’ Patricia campus has been the target of an anti-Semitic incident.
On June 11, staff at the school found a swastika scratched into the ground in the children’s play area near the school. That incident followed two others only a couple of weeks before. On May 30, students in the play area were confronted by passersby who tossed small stones at them. Soon afterwards, students discovered a swastika a few inches in diameter that had been scrawled into the asphalt near the school.
Police were notified of the incidents.
In an email statement, school administrators reassured parents that “police were contacted immediately, and sent out an officer to investigate this issue and any connection it may have to the previous incident.
“Following the first incident, we spoke to the police and CIJA (Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs) and followed the security recommendations made to the school. Once the police prepare their full report, we will see if any further recommendations are made, and Eitz Chaim will be careful to follow them.
“In the meantime, the police informed us that they will elevate their level of patrol in the area,” the letter stated.
Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, head of school, said Eitz Chaim has taken steps to increase its safety measures and is consulting with an outside security firm.
The school has also “reinvigorated” a parent security committee to monitor and advise on safety measures and members of the school’s board met with Councillor James Pasternak, Toronto Mayor John Tory and other stakeholders to discuss community safety, Rabbi Schwartz said.
“The police have been incredibly responsive,” he said. “We are gratified with the level of concern that the other organizations spanning the breadth of Jewish Toronto have shown in taking care of us.”
Rabbi Schwartz said it was unclear whether the stone-throwing incident was an anti-Semitic attack, or simply a random incident perpetrated by young people walking by.
He said the person or people who scratched the small swastikas into the ground – they were only a few inches in diameter – may have been motivated by anti-Semitism, or by anger over the fact that the school’s playground was locked and they no longer had access to it. A school fence was also broken in the incidents.
“Regardless, it’s also egregious, but not with the same sort of intentionality,” he said.
Amir Kohl, director of facilities and information technology at the school, said security cameras were in operation during the incidents, but they are outdated and it appears the incidents took place outside their field of view. The school is considering upgrading the cameras and expanding the area they cover.
Sara Lefton, vice-president of CIJA for the Greater Toronto Area, said, “The security of our community is CIJA’s top priority. While we have zero tolerance for any acts of anti-Semitism, this incident particularly concerned us because children were involved. We have provided advice and support to Eitz Chaim and will continue working with them to ensure their students are safe. As we always do, we also immediately reached out to our partners at the Toronto Police Service, including the Hate Crime Unit, to assist with the investigation,” Lefton said.
“Eitz Chaim is part of a network of Jewish schools in the GTA and across the country, to which CIJA provides security support, guidance and training through the National Community Security Program, Lefton added.
Meanwhile, police were also investigating an act of anti-Semitic vandalism at the Morris & Sally Justein Heritage Museum, located inside Baycrest Health Sciences on Bathurst Street. In that incident, a man was caught on surveillance video removing two photos from a display case, vandalizing them and then writing disparaging remarks in the comment book, according to the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Reports of the latest incidents coincides with a Statistics Canada report that’s based on police findings across Canada, which indicated that in 2015, Jews were the single most targeted religious group in Canada for hate crimes.
Those findings correlate with those reported by the Toronto Police Service in its 2016 Annual Hate/Bias Crime Statistical Report, in which Jews were found to be the single most targeted victim group in Toronto for the last 10 years.
“The three most targeted groups since 2006 have been the Jewish community, the black community and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community,” the Toronto Police Service reported.
Jewish organizations condemned the Eitz Chaim incidents.
Avi Benlolo, CEO of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, suggested the perpetrators could be repeat offenders.
“Police are on it. They are investigating, filing reports. I really do believe they take this very seriously and they’re very concerned,” he said.
However, perpetrators often get off too lightly, if they’re charged at all. “It’s the legal system,” Benlolo said. “It’s a problem of deterrence.”