Lo­cal high school scene of hate in­ci­dent

Swastika drawn on mu­ral was re­ported to po­lice

Richmond Hill Post - - News - –– David Olsen

Rabbi Shlomo Man­del hopes a Jewish culture club can be a place for Jewish stu­dents to come to­gether af­ter an­other in­ci­dent of anti-Semitism in Toronto schools.

Man­del is the di­rec­tor of Jewish Stu­dent Union, which runs lunchtime Jewish culture clubs in schools through­out the GTA, in­clud­ing Wil­liam Lyon Macken­zie Col­le­giate, where a re­cent anti-Semitic in­ci­dent took place.

In a let­ter sent to par­ents, dated Dec. 17, Macken­zie principal Keith John­son said a swastika had been drawn on a grat­i­tude mu­ral lo­cated in the school’s main foyer. The mu­ral had been cre­ated by stu­dents as part of the school’s Well­ness Week.

“This is an up­set­ting and un­ac­cept­able in­ci­dent,” the let­ter stated. “Any acts of hate, an­ti­Semitism, racism, dis­crim­i­na­tion, bias, prej­u­dice have no place in our school and will not be tol­er­ated.”

The let­ter stated that the swastika had been re­moved and that the school would be re­view­ing video sur­veil­lance cam­eras.

Af­ter the let­ter was is­sued, John­son con­firmed that they had iden­ti­fied the stu­dent re­spon­si­ble for the graf­fiti and that “for­mal con­se­quences” were is­sued by the school. As a hate-re­lated oc­cur­rence, the in­ci­dent has been re­ported to the po­lice.

“It’s dis­ap­point­ing on all fronts, and we just dealt with it ac­cord­ingly,” said John­son. “We took it as se­ri­ously as it should be taken be­cause it is a huge in­ci­dent.”

Man­del said about 40 kids at­tend the culture club each week at Macken­zie and that this is not the first case of anti-Semitism in schools where he runs the clubs.

“I’ve had in­di­vid­ual stu­dents come up to me and tell me much worse, not at Macken­zie per se, but in­di­vid­u­als at other schools. It’s not like it’s any­thing new,” said Man­del. He also added that the stu­dents in his culture club at Macken­zie were sat­is­fied with the school’s re­sponse.

This in­ci­dent comes just a month af­ter four teenage boys wear­ing Jewish re­li­gious at­tire were at­tacked while walk­ing home from school near Bathurst Street and Lawrence Av­enue West, and is sim­i­lar to an­other in­ci­dent at North­ern Sec­ondary School last year when a flyer ad­ver­tis­ing a Jewish club there was de­faced with swastikas and anti-Semitic mes­sages in ad­vance of a visit by Robert Walker, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Is­rael ad­vo­cacy group Has­bara Fel­low­ships.

“That was un­for­tu­nately one of many in­stances in this city and in this coun­try where swastikas and anti-Jewish hate pro­pa­ganda ap­pears,” said Walker.

Fur­ther north in Thorn­hill, a syn­a­gogue was van­dal­ized last March, and later in the year swastikas traced by foot­prints were found in the snow in a lo­cal park.

“Thorn­hill is Canada’s rid­ing with the largest Jewish pop­u­la­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, we con­tinue to see es­ca­lat­ing mes­sages of hate,” said Gila Mar­tow, mem­ber of pro­vin­cial par­lia­ment for Thorn­hill. “While many com­mu­ni­ties are tar­gets of big­otry, the Jewish com­mu­nity con­tin­ues to ex­pe­ri­ence the high­est per­cent­age of at­tacks [on re­li­gious groups] across our coun­try.”

Man­del has been with the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of Syn­a­gogue Youth (NCSY) Canada, the or­ga­ni­za­tion that runs Jewish Stu­dent Union, for four years. He said he has per­son­ally no­ticed an in­crease in anti-Semitic in­ci­dents in high schools in the last two years.

“It could be it was just more un­der the rug, more cov­ered up,” said Man­del. “It could be that be­cause we have grown and are in more schools and in touch with more stu­dents we have heard about more in­ci­dents be­cause of that.”

To Man­del, the in­ci­dent at Macken­zie high­lights the im­por­tance of hav­ing a Jewish culture club, which of­fers Jewish ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties and a free pizza lunch to any­one who wants to at­tend.

“When you get bul­lied, the re­sponse isn’t to go un­der the cov­ers,” said Man­del. “It’s to fight back, it’s to be even more proud of who you are.”

The Jewish com­mu­nity con­tin­ues to ex­pe­ri­ence the high­est per­cent­age of at­tacks [on re­li­gious groups] across our coun­try.”

Rabbi Shlomo Man­del is the di­rec­tor of the Jewish Stu­dent Union

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