Vandals Strike Jewish Sites

by Ron Csillag, David Lazarus and Paul Lungen, The Canadian Jewish News, October 15, 1998

Three attacks on Jewish targets in Canada in one week have left officials shaken, but confident the offences are not part of a trend.

Two of the attacks are being treated as crimes of hate against Jews.

Arson investigators are busy with two incidents, one in Ottawa and the other in Toronto.

A fire that caused up to $75,000 damage at Ecole Maimonides in suburban Ottawa is not even close to being solved. There have been no arrests and police have few leads. Although it was arson and it occurred hours after Yom Kippur ended, the blaze is not being treated as hate-motivated.

In downtown Toronto, a fire on Sukkot at the Bloor Jewish Community Centre (JCC) was deliberately set. Police say the blaze, which caused at least $10,000 in damage, was a hate crime.

And in Montreal, vandals broke into a private home over Yom Kippur, did thousands of dollars in damage and scrawled anti0Semitic messages on walls.

"To the best of our knowledge to date, we are not aware of any connection between the three," said Mark Weintraub, national chair of the Canadian Jewish Congress community relations committee.

"We are proceeding on the basis that these were ugly, anti-Semitic attacks, but [that] they are not related," he said.

Weintraub said that because two of the attacks were hate-driven, he expects they will be given high priority.

On Sept. 30, Simon Bohbol, his wife Jocelyne, and their children Miriam, Benjamin and Jessica returned home after observing Yom Kippur and Miriam's 15th birthday, and were appalled to discover the destruction inside.

According to Police Constable Valerie Fradet, the vandalism appeared to be a hate crime with no precedent in the area.

Major areas of interior walls were covered with large-lettered anti-Semitic and obscene graffiti; rugs, furs and furniture were spray-painted and soiled by finishing stain; expensive basement furniture was ripped to shreds; and jewelry and electronic equipment were missing.

One of the anti-Semitic graffiti scrawled in the main floor hallway of the raised bungalow read: "Death to all Jews" (sic).

Another, above the ruined leather sofa in the basement, said simply, "Jews".

The walls also were defaced with what looked like two satanic pentagrams - one piece of graffiti read: "Satan Rules" - and threats to return to the home, which had also been broken into about 14 months earlier, but without vandalism.

"It's like we were invaded," Jocelyne Bohbol told The CJN, "I came in and screamed, 'Oh my God!'"

"This was a real nice birthday for my daughter," Simon Bohbol said. "This time, they very maliciously left messages."

The Bohbols indicated that who ever invaded their house may have been staking out the property. The family left their home several hours before Yom Kippur began and did not return until about three hours after it ended - an absence of over 30 hours.

They said their home was probably entered through a basement window that they discovered was broken.

The family was at a loss to explain any possible motive behind the attack or its level of viciousness.

In Ottawa, officials at Ecole Maimonides are appealing to all Canadian Jews for financial help in repairing the French immersion Torah day school.

A local anonymous donor has agreed to match half of all funds raised until Oct. 25.

The fire, set after someone broke in through a window, was the second at the school in four years. There were no arrests made in a 1994 arson attack.

The latest blaze cause extensive damage, including from water and smoke.

The school's 10 or so students are faring well, said principal Rabbi Menachem Blum.

"Their spirits are good. We had a sukkah, and the Museum of Civilization [in Hull] opened their doors to us," he told The CJN.

Meantime, Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) has offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the attack at Toronto's Bloor Street JCC.

No one was hurt, but an estimated $10,000 in damage was caused by the fire, which was centred in a storage area at the south end of the building.

Police and the fire department were summoned to the scene by a passerby who called 911 around 1 a.m. After extinguishing the blaze, fire officials discovered that the plate glass window on the rear door to the storage area was smashed.

Two gas-soaked rags were found at the scene. A two foot stick with a swivel device on it that was used to start the fire was also found, said Det. Sgt. James Ramer, the police hate crime liaison officer with 14 Division in Toronto.

Noting that the attack took place during a Jewish holiday (Sakkot) and that there were similar, earlier arson incidents in Ottawa, police immediately treated the Bloor JCC fire as a hate crime, Ramer said.

"CJC will work cooperatively with the Toronto Police Services and the Bloor JCC to apprehend those responsible for this crime," said Ellen Cole, chair of community relations for Congress' Ontario region. "This was an attack on one of our key institutions."

Cole noted that "in the past, these attacks had been known to occur around Jewish holidays."

Bloor JCC director Bill Emery said that in his 11 years at the facility, he could recall no other incidents of arson. On one occasion, a bomb threat was called in, and another time someone daubed an outside wall with "a hard-to-decipher slogan" that may have been anti-Semitic.

Emery said his initial "gut reaction" - one shared by many at the centre - was that the fire was a case of simple vandalism without racial motivation. "I think it's a case of being downtown," he said.

Emery noted that in the past, the Bloor JCC and its neighbors had experienced broken windows and kicked-in doors. But, he added, "this is a serious business. We're glad police are stepping up their patrols of the building [and] are treating this as a hate crime."

Prior to the High Holy Days, Congress hosted a security meeting in the Lipa Green Building for representatives of various Jewish organizations and agencies, and security precautions during the holidays were discussed. Police from Toronto, York and Durham regions attended, as did officers of the Ontario Provincial Police. The pre-holiday security meeting has become standard procedure in the Jewish community.

In the wake of the attack on the Bloor JCC, "Congress will consider whether to issue a security advisory alert," to warn Jewish agencies to be "more vigilant," Cole said.

That might include warning employees and users of the buildings to "look out for new people."

Emery said, "Right now, there is no time when there is no one in the building."

A day after the fire, it was business as usual at the centre, although a strong odor hung over the gym.

The storage area was a charred mess and a $5,000 trampoline was damaged, as was other "circus equipment," including rigging for a trapeze. Thanks to the quick response of the fire department, fire damage to the building was minor, Emery said.

It was too early to determine the full extent of the damage to equipment, he added.

Meanwhile, the Bohbols, as well as David Sultan, community relations director of Canadian Jewish Congress' Quebec region, expressed concern that it took police 14 hours to respond to the family's call.

Constable Fradet said that was probably because the family dialed 911, a central police line staffed by civilians, who advised the Bohbols to wait until morning because there was no personal injury or threat to life involved.

But the Bohbols feel police should have responded much faster.

"When the police officer came to the door, her jaw just dropped," Simon Bohbol said.

Police said their investigation will continue.

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