After a Fredericton synagogue is vandalized, the community turns out for a solidarity vigil

Community members linked arms in rows in front of Sgoolai Israel Synagogue at the outset of a vigil hosted by friends of the Jewish community in Fredericton, NB on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. New Brunswick Justice and Public Safety minister Kris Austin (middle, black jacket) was among several elected officials who attended in support.(Credit: Ayten Kranat)

On Sunday, Jan. 28, one day after its front windows were broken on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Sgoolai Israel Synagogue in Fredericton was at capacity for a solidarity vigil organized by friends of the Jewish community.

The event began with participants standing with linked arms outside the synagogue, where the glass panes beside the door and smaller windows set into the door were smashed between Friday night and Saturday morning. All of the glass had been repaired nearly immediately.

The synagogue does not have security cameras. Fredericton Police, who are investigating whether the window smashing was an act of “targeted hostility” or a suspected hate crime, say it is “too early to tell,” Staff Sergeant Justin LeBlanc told CTV News.

Rabbi Yosef Goldman delayed the start of services on Saturday morning, though ultimately chose to continue.

On Sunday, with around 300 or more people gathered outside the synagogue, it was Rabbi Goldman who led community members inside for the event, which he said reached or surpassed the building’s 270-person capacity.

Rabbi Goldman thanked the many elected officials both present and those who had contacted him, including city, provincial and federal officials, as well as Christian and Muslim community leaders.

“There’s many people at all levels of government who called me. My children are truly impressed by how many private cellphone numbers I have now of very important people,” he said to laughter.

“And I hope to God that I never have to use that phone [number] again. But we do believe in this support.”

Fredericton’s Sgoolai Israel Synagogue was packed during a vigil hosted by friends of the Jewish community on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 28, 2024 (Credit: Ayten Kranat)

Rabbi Goldman explained in his remarks, which reprised the Saturday sermon he had prepared, how serendipitous it was that the weekly portion told the story of Yael and the importance of non-Jewish allies to the safety of the Jewish people, and that, as he’d said on Saturday, he’d already prepared the sermon with that focus.

“I said that all of you here today are are basically redoing what Yael did, and with her heroism and the fact that you came here today to support us,” adding that there were “people there from every single community in Fredericton, the United Church ministers and Muslim leaders and university professors.”

The rabbi recalled a moment of defiance when supporters linked arms outside the synagogue, as photographers clicked away. 

“I said ‘We are not scared’ and everybody repeated after me. It’s both… either we are not scared or you cannot scare us… and I’m sure that they can scare us. But we are not scared.”

Sgoolai Israel Synagogue in downtown Fredericton with the windows set into the front doors broken on Sat. Jan. 27, 2024, International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The vandalism took place overnight sometime between 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 26, and 8 a.m. Saturday, when the damage was first reported. (Credit: Ayten Kranat)

Rabbi Goldman says while this has never happened before, he was shocked but also not surprised, given the rising antisemitism in Canada that is also affecting smaller Jewish communities.

Other members of the Fredericton Jewish community shared the view that this was, according to synagogue board member and gabbai Daniel Chippin, “a very big escalation.”

Speaking to The CJN the evening of Jan. 27, hours after Shabbat services ended, Chippin he had personally received several positive, sympathetic messages from the local community.

“I was fairly surprised it happened,” said Chippin. “We haven’t really had anything up until this, I would say. I mean, there’s been protests and stuff… there hasn’t been any [incident of this nature].”

Facebook post and photo from Sgoolai Israel Synagogue with message from president Ruth Chippin on Jan. 27, 2024 (Credit: Facebook/Jewish Fredericton)

Chippin said the connection to Holocaust Remembrance Day was likely not a coincidence.

“To some extent, I think the Holocaust kind of started with the Night of Broken Glass. To some extent, I imagine the vandal, the attacker, had this in mind,” he told CTV News.

Rabbi Goldman, however, told The CJN he was not certain that the perpetrator of the attack made that connection.

“They’re bullies, and bullies don’t usually use their brains,” said Rabbi Goldman. He told The CJN he was not certain that whomever attacked the synagogue understood the significance of the date when they did.

Members of Fredericton Palestine Solidarity attended the vigil to express support for the Jewish community, CBC News reported. Rabbi Goldman told The CJN that members of Independent Jewish Voices Canada, which supports the boycott and sanctions movement against Israel, also expressed support and told him there was no connection to pro-Palestinian protests that have taken place weekly at Fredericton City Hall.

Goldman said the majority of the attendees of the vigil were non-Jewish, and that only about a third of the non-denominational synagogue’s members were able to attend.

“I recognized so many faces there from all the different interfaith work that we’ve been doing here,” he said about looking out at the full sanctuary.

“I probably gave all my germs to all the people I hugged,” Rabbi Goldman said. “It was very uplifting, very encouraging.”

Fredericton Liberal MLA Dominic Carty and his wife Julie Smith, who helped organize the event, have also helped create a GoFundMe campaign to help reimburse the window repairs and pay for security upgrades. Goldman says the couple’s efforts raised more than $7,300 overnight from Saturday afternoon to Sunday.

Smith, who introduced Rabbi Goldman for his remarks, acknowledged the broad support for the Jewish community at the vigil.

“It’s amazing to see people from different ages, different political views, different religions, and we’re all here because we all believe in the city and we don’t believe in expressing hate at all,” Smith told the crowd.

The synagogue comprises a community of about 150 people, with around 60 Jewish families in Fredericton, according to the rabbi. The city’s population was 63,116 as of the 2021 Canada census.

New Brunswick Justice and Public Safety minister Kris Austin, provincial Liberal leader Susan Holt, deputy mayor Greg Ericson, and other city councillors were among the elected officials attending the vigil, as was Fredericton MP Jenica Atwin.

In online messages, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs called the attack “heartbreaking,” while federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre decried the “appalling attack” by “cowards.”

Ayten Kranat, Sgoolai’s vice-president, confirmed the synagogue has applied for or is in the process of applying for federal Security Infrastructure Program grants. She said the issue of security cameras had already been on the agenda for an upcoming meeting Jan. 30.  

“People here didn’t think this would really happen. Everybody is in shock and denial, because of the size of the city. It’s Fredericton. But then again, maybe we’re naïve,” she said.

Kranat and her family moved from London, England to Canada after her daughter, then 12 years old, was targeted in an antisemitic incident on a public bus.

“That’s why we came here, to be safe,” said Kranat. “We knew it was going to be 15 years, and it really took 15 years… and now it’s happening here.”

“I can’t believe this is happening in Fredericton,” she told the Telegraph-Journal on Jan. 27.

In November at Moncton’s Tiferes Israel Synagogue, an “intruder” entered the building during Saturday Shabbat services, according to the executive director of the Atlantic Jewish Council. The president of the Moncton synagogue, Frances Weil, reportedly called the Fredericton attack “a reminder to be careful,” the Telegraph-Journal reported Monday, Jan. 29.

The executive director, who said the synagogue was later in touch with security experts from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) to assess their security needs, told The CJN he will encourage smaller Jewish communities in the region to apply for the federal security infrastructure grants, if they have synagogues or other communal buildings.

Marilyn Kaufman, the co-chair of Sgoolai Israel’s antisemitism committee, says that since Oct. 7, the majority of reports of incidents in the community and region have involved middle-school and high-school students being harassed, experiencing bullying or racial slurs. She says a student in a Saint John, N.B. high school had an Israeli flag ripped off their locker.

“Here in Fredericton, we have seen an escalation, I would say, of antisemitic incidents. We’ve seen some posters posted on the public trails,” said Kaufman.

Rabbi Goldman says the escalating antisemitism in Canada had already brought security issues into focus before the incident.

“The police doesn’t even know if this was a hate crime,” he said. “But I think that they’re giving it a lot more attention than just vandalism.”