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‘We’re just more vigilant,’ synagogue and mosque leaders in Canada say amid rise in hate crimes

By Mitchell Consky, Writer

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    Toronto, Ontario (CTV Network) — As police forces in major Canadian cities report a dramatic spike in antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crimes in recent weeks — a surge correlated with the Israel-Hamas war — synagogues and mosques throughout the country are amping up security measures to protect their communities. Asher Tannenbaum, a ritual director of Shaare Zion Beth-El Congregation, a synagogue in Montreal, says vigilance has become a major priority. “Since Oct. 7, we’ve increased security,” Tannenbaum told during a phone interview on Friday. “We have the security guard twice a day — in the morning when we have morning service, and when we have evening services. All our external doors are locked. We only have one door that we open and close. We have other entrances, but we keep it to one entrance.” Tannenbaum added that congregants or community members who hope to visit the synagogue outside of hours of service have to call in advance to make an appointment. He said that a volunteer committee of community members stands with security guards on Saturdays to help identify regulars. “When it comes to Saturdays when we have more people coming, we have additional security around the building. We’re just more vigilant.” Tannenbaum said antisemitism is all too familiar in Montreal. “Last September somebody painted Swastikas on a Jewish school,” he said. Despite the emerging need for tighter security, Tannenbaum said that Jewish solidarity remains strong. “We’re proud to be Jewish.” Since the Israel-Hamas war began, Prime Minister Trudeau and other leaders have spoken out against a rise in both antisemitism and Islamophobia at home. Trudeau spoke about “a very scary rise” of antisemitism in Canada at a conference on fighting antisemitism 10 days after the war broke out. He added that the “steady rise” in Jewish-targeted hate crimes preceded the attacks on Oct. 7. In the same week, Trudeau’s special representative for combating Islamophobia warned against allowing the Israel-Hamas war to become a catalyst for the stereotyping of Muslim Canadians, saying that the legacy of 9/11 is “being rekindled” in the current war. A statement by Ottawa Police, issued on Wednesday, warned that “several concerning hate-motivated criminal incidents, including graffiti, vandalism, hate mail, threats and a potential threat to public safety” have been reported to police officials. Montreal police reported four hate crimes against the Arab-Muslim community and 12 hate crimes against the Jewish community between Oct. 7 and Oct. 25. On Wednesday, the Standing Senate Community on Human Rights released a report on a rise of Islamophobia in Canada, based on data that precedes the most recent Israel-Hamas war. The report mentioned the 2017 attack on the Great Mosque of Quebec, where six people were killed, and a series of other violent attacks in Muslim communities in Edmonton, Saskatoon, London, Mississauga and Toronto. Syed Soharwardy, the founder and current president of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, who oversees 26 mosques throughout Canada, also pointed to heightened vigilance among Muslim communities in light of recent violence in the Middle East. “The whole Muslim community across the country is very concerned,” he told during a phone interview on Friday. “We are doing whatever we can to protect ourselves.” Soharwardy cited the importance of security guard diligence with all mosques he oversees. “They monitor traffic, they monitor parking and they also are vigilant about any incident. One thing we understand is that we don’t have a foolproof security system. We are doing our best.” Soharwardly added that “it’s quite frightening now” for both Muslims and Jews in Canada. “I’m fully aware of the antisemitism amongst Jewish communities,” he said. “It’s not just Islamophobia. Both sides are suffering. This is definitely very concerning.” Soharwardly has told his community members to be aware of their surroundings and to advocate for peace. “Don’t hate anybody, but also don’t accept any violence,” he said. “We are definitely concerned that someone will do something of harm to anyone, whether it is the Jewish community or Muslim community.” A study conducted by Nanos Research, commissioned by CTV News, found that many Canadians have concerns about the Israel-Hamas conflict resulting in an increase in hate crime incidents in their communities. Out of more than 1,000 Canadian respondents surveyed, 39 per cent said they are concerned about the increase in hate crimes, while 30 per cent reported being “somewhat concerned.” Rabbi Moishe Goldman, Jewish chaplain of the Rohr Chabad Centre for Jewish Life in Waterloo, Ont., says the recent rise in hate crimes should not deter people from engaging with their community. “I don’t want people to be too scared to participate in community life,” he told during a phone call on Friday. Goldman also mentioned an increase in police presence and security for his community. “I want them to be able to continue to gather with their community because when it’s difficult times that’s one of the things that gets you through it,” he said. “Both spiritually and psychologically, it’s very important to get together with your people.” He added that, “We can’t ever have a situation where that’s not possible because of some kind of threat. It’s not acceptable as a society.” With files from The Canadian Press

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