Local high school scene of hate incident
Swastika drawn on mural was reported to police
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