Several principals have said they are beefing up educational programs on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. And while that’s a good first step, some feel more needs to be done.
By Faygie Holt
By Faygie Holt, JNS
Anti-Semitic graffiti was found outside of several high schools in the Toronto area last week, days after students at a middle school used a Nazi salute in class.
On a March 2 social-media post, Chief James Ramer of the Toronto Police Service said: “Today, we received three reports of anti-Semitic graffiti outside of schools” in different Toronto police districts. “We are investigating, and our specialized hate-crime unit is engaged. Hate crimes are a top priority of the Toronto Police, and we are committed to combatting hate in our city.”
According to local media reports, the graffiti at the three schools—Central Technical High School, Rosedale Heights School of the Arts and Malvern Collegiate Institute—appeared to be connected.
“Nearly identical anti-Semitic graffiti was reported outside of the three schools and appears to have happened overnight. We are working with TPS to provide any help as they continue to investigate these completely unacceptable incidents,” the school district posted online.
In a letter to parents, Central Technical’s principal Anne Chirakal wrote that “we take great pride in our school as a welcoming, safe and inclusive place, so this is not only very upsetting, particularly for those in the Jewish community, but a completely unacceptable incident.”
Noah Shack, vice president GTA, at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said: “We appreciate that the schools’ administrations, school boards/TDSB and Toronto Police Service have handled each incident swiftly and seriously. We remain committed to supporting school boards across the province to develop and deliver proactive anti-Semitism education to stop this alarming trend.
“It must be noted that the recent anti-Semitic incidents seen across schools in the GTA are unacceptable, and representative of a larger trend of rising levels of anti-Semitism and Jew-hate globally,” he told JNS. “Hate crime does not impact only the targeted individuals or groups. It attacks the very fabric of our society and the values we share.”
An estimated 189,000 Jews live in the greater Toronto area, representing some 3.8 percent of the total Toronto population. Still, in 2020, Jews were the target of 34 percent of all hate crimes in the city, according to statistics from the Toronto Police.
“Toronto has experienced an alarming rise in hate crime, with a 51 percent spike in 2020, and it is essential for police and schools to have the resources to address this deeply concerning trend,” said Stack. “We are grateful that the City of Toronto and Ontario’s Ministry of Education have allocated resources to combating anti-Semitism and all forms of hate crime. Proactive education will ensure that the next generation develops an understanding of anti-Semitism as a means stemming out hate from the roots, but is also essential that the entire community show no tolerance for hate crimes of any kind; we must enforce that hate has no place in our schools, our city, our society.”
The anti-Semitic graffiti comes amid a spate of anti-Jewish incidents at Toronto schools. Over the last few weeks, students at several different middle schools have performed Nazi salutes in front of their classmates and, in at least two instances, Jewish teachers.
And in December, the Toronto District School Board considered censuring a board member who spoke out against a district employee who was sharing anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist materials with educators during the Hamas war in Gaza.
Several principals have already said they are beefing up educational programs on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. While that’s a good first step, some feel more needs to be done.
Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada noted that “in addition to increasing education about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism in the schools’ curriculum, a broader culture shift is required within the TDSB. This includes zero tolerance for anti-Semitism among students and staff, alongside education.”