Community safety funds headed to Jewish organizations in Hamilton

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Published November 23, 2023 at 2:47 pm

Hamilton's Temple Anshe Sholom is Canada's oldest Reform synagogue. via Historical Hamilton

Amid an ongoing rise in anti-Semitic hate incidents across Canada, Hamilton has committed to providing some one-time funding to promote safety at its local Jewish faith-based organizations.

Two motions were submitted to city council in their meeting on Nov. 22. Councillors Alex Wilson (Ward 13) and Maureen Wilson (Ward 1) each put forward the request for funds for their respective wards.

Their requests come amid a massive spike in both anti-Semitic and Islamophobic hate incidents. While this spike has been ongoing for the last several years, the renewed violence in Israel and Palestine has further inflamed violence and harassment.

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network reported on a Canada-wide rise in hate incidents. These include threats against Jewish organizations in Toronto, hateful graffiti and a shooting at a synagogue in Winnipeg, and bomb threats and shootings at Hebrew schools in Montreal.

On Nov. 23, Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw said there were 323 reported hate crimes so far in 2023. This is a 45 per cent increase from the 224 incidents reported in 2022. Of these, 129 were reported anti-Semitic hate crimes and 34 were reported as Islamophobic hate crimes.

Almost a full quarter of these incidents (78) have been reported since the 2023 Israel-Hamas War broke out on Oct. 7. Half of the total hate crimes reported since Oct. 7 have been anti-Semitic. In the time since, Toronto police arrested 25 hate crime suspects on 64 charges.

As a result, Toronto police bolstered its Hate Crime Unit from six officers to a team of 21 investigators and eight Special Constables. (Demkiw also noted a steep jump in anti-LGBT attacks this year, which have almost doubled.)

Insauga requested similar statistical data from Hamilton Police, but they have not provided any.

However, Maureen Wilson’s motion notes shots fired at Yeshiva Gedola and Talmud Torah Elementary School and “substantiated threats” to Jewish organizations in Hamilton. Likewise, she noted the Hamilton Hebrew Academy, Adas Israel Synagogue and Temple Anshe Sholom have identified substantiated increased safety concerns for their students, congregants and tenants.

Alex Wilson’s motion was much the same as Maureen Wilson’s but also noted the Hamilton Jewish Family Services (HJFS) has increased safety concerns for their workers and clients. HJFS operates the only kosher food bank in southwestern Ontario.

To address these concerns, the councillors noted the organization needed help with the increased security costs. Their motions requested $7,500 in financial support from the city for the Hamilton Hebrew Academy, Adas Israel Synagogue, Anshe Sholom Temple and the HJFS.

The city has already committed to a full security grant system in 2024. However, according to Alex Wilson, the organizations need some funds as soon as possible. They filed an emergency request with the city.

“Addressing rising hate incidents and responding to them is a priority for our organization,” Alex Wilson told council, “There’s an increased atmosphere of identity-based hatred in our city right now… when we look at this and see real and growing safety concerns I think its incumbent on us to do something.”

He noted the HJFS has been in a fundraising blackout period since the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Repentance) in September.

“Anti-semitism is real in our community,” he continued, “It’s deeply unfortunate we have to make a statement like that but it is the reality for many Jewish members of our community. I think we’re seeing a targeting of community spaces.”

He said he felt similar tensions when marginalized communities came together back in July at Hamilton’s Pride celebration, though noted that’s not comparable to being targeted in a place of worship.

“This is a time of tremendous sorrow and grief,” said Maureen Wilson, “It’s also now a time of heightened fear. We’ve heard from members of our community that they are afraid. The fact that members of our community have to put security infrastructure in place should be troubling for all of us.”

“It’s my strong belief this community has recognized a past history of anti-Semitism and now very pronounced expressions of anti-Semitism. That is not something we should ever accept. Conditions are such I do believe we have to act and assist.”

Councilor Brad Clark (Ward 9) noted racism existed in the city long before the latest conflict broke out. He fully supported the motions but noted the requested funds would come directly from the pre-existing allocations for Ward 1 and Ward 13. He wanted to see the city as a whole is helping alleviate the tensions in the community.

“We should never be silent in the face of any hate incident regardless of the target,” Councillor Ted McMeekan (Ward 15) agreed. Councillor Tom Jackson (Ward 6) said these grants not only “financially, but morally, politically support the local Jewish community who are feeling frightened and a heightened tension and stress.”

Jackson continued saying the current atmosphere reminded him of the 2001 Hindu Samaj temple arson. The temple was burned just four days after the 9/11 World Trade Center attack. A mosque in Ward 6 was also vandalized that day. “This is what happens when the tone and temperature of dialogue and debate escalates,” Jackson said.

Both motions passed unanimously.

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