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Winnipeg café attacked in apparent hate crime

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The exterior of BerMax Caffé & Bistro following the attack. (Myron Love photo)

Winnipeggers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are expressing shock and outrage in the aftermath of an attack on a Jewish-owned restaurant in south Winnipeg.

On April 18, a person, or persons, entered the BerMax Caffé & Bistro, assaulted a woman working in the establishment and trashed the place, leaving anti-Semitic graffiti behind.

Winnipeg Police Service spokesman Rob Carver said at a press conference that, “We are investigating this as a hate crime. It has yet to be determined the exact nature of what happened, so I don’t want to make any assumptions. On the surface, it is very troubling.”

But, he said, “We also have evidence that a commercial robbery occurred.” He added that it is too early to say how the robbery is connected to the graffiti and vandalism.

“I just can’t fathom how or why people would want to do such a terrible act,” Elaine Goldstine, the chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, told CBC News. “We are horrified and saddened.”

The Federation’s communication’s director, Adam Levy, added that, “We’re in shock about this senseless act of hatred, which has taken place in our own community, in our own backyard.… It’s the most brazen act of anti-Semitism that we’ve seen in our community, and perhaps ever. We hope this is not a sign of things to come.”

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Ran Ukashi, the Winnipeg-based national director for the B’nai Brith League for Human Rights, condemned this “violent and despicable action,” saying that, “We trust that the police will use all of their resources to investigate this crime and bring the perpetrator to justice.”

The Westworth United Church is scheduled to hold a vigil on April 25. Rev. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd told the CBC that, “People of all faiths are being invited to the vigil to come together in prayer to stand against anti-Semitism.”

The attack on the BerMax Caffé is the first case of physical violence against a Jewish-owned business or institution in living memory. Previous incidents of anti-Semitic behaviour include a photo of a pig with swastikas posted on the door of Temple Shalom, Winnipeg’s Reform congregation, a couple weeks ago, a young woman receiving threatening texts in December and January, and a rock with anti-Semitic language left on the porch of an interfaith family’s home a couple years ago.

But an assault such as this is unprecedented.

It would also seem to be the case that BerMax is being specifically targeted, as the restaurant has been subjected to several other anti-Semitic attacks recently.

The restaurant was pelted with eggs last year and, more recently, both in late January and early February, the word “Jew” was painted in its door and window, as well as on a nearby fence.

The restaurant was founded in 2015 by the Berent family and operated by Oksana Berent and her son, Max. BerMax had been operating as a kosher restaurant until last fall, when the family chose to drop its kosher certification, citing higher costs and closing for Shabbat.

“It’s a horrible thing to target a Jewish business like this,” Max Berent told The CJN following the vandalism in February. “We aren’t sure who did this, but it is a very scary thing.”