Around 100 people showed up at a rally at the Talmud Torah School in Edmonton on Aug. 7, after a swastika was found on the school’s basketball court on Aug. 2. Swastikas were also found spray painted elsewhere within the vicinity of the school, including a bus shelter a few blocks away.
The most recent acts of vandalism follow other incidents of Edmonton Jewish institutions finding anti-Semitic graffiti in their vicinity and receiving anti-Semitic literature over the past year, according to Abe Silverman of B’nai Brith Canada.
The rally was held as a way for the community to come together in defiance of the vandalism, said Gerald Sorokin, the executive director of the Talmud Torah Society, which owns and operates the school.
“A number of people wanted to make a public statement to reaffirm the neighbourhood’s support for the Jewish community, the Jewish community’s support for itself and its place in the overall Edmonton community,” he said.
Of the approximately 100 attendees, Sorokin estimates that about half were Jewish, about a third were from the neighbourhood and the remainder came from further away. He added that at least one man came from the other side of town, “so we did have people coming from outside the neighbourhood because they wanted to make a statement, too.”
Another purpose of the rally was to alleviate potential concerns of Jewish members of the community. Sorokin said he couldn’t be sure if the vandalism was politically motivated, or “a youthful prank taken way too far,” but either way, it was important to put on a show of solidarity.
“I made a decision to speak out more publicly after the swastika, because I’m concerned that these episodes are creating a hostile environment and I don’t want Jewish families pulling their kids out of the school because of this kind of implicit threat that they’re perceiving,” he said.
An MLA and an MP spoke at the rally, as did the president of the Edmonton Jewish Federation. Sorokin then invited members of the community to come up and speak. Among those speakers was a Muslim person from the neighbourhood, an indigenous woman and a local Chabad rabbi.
Sorokin said the feedback he received from the Jewish community was positive.
“We kept it short. We gave a consistent message, which was that we’re not going to be apologizing for who we are,” he said. “This kind of property destruction and threatening images have no place in our society.… As Canadians and as Jews, we are going to get along. We’re going to take pride in who we are and accept people for who they are, and that’s the message to convey.”
Sorokin said the school will be to reassess its current security measures and make the results public. And while he believes the current measures are up to date and strong, he said that it’s important to show that the school is staying on top of potential issues and taking perceived threats seriously, in order to reassure the Jewish community that they can feel safe at the school.
B’nai Brith said that it will also be in contact with the relevant law enforcement officials and act as a resource for the Jewish community.
Elsewhere in Alberta, a Medicine Hat man was arrested after trying to use money with anti-Semitic phrases stamped on it. According to the Medicine Hat Police Service, a complaint was filed on July 31, when Loki Hulgaard allegedly tried to use the marked bills at a local business. The bills were marked with the phrases, “Jews=ESAU, Jewish White Genocide,” and “www.thezog.info, Jewish White Genocide.” Thezog.info appears to be a white supremacist website.
As a result of the arrest, police obtained a search warrant for Hulgaard’s home, where they seized four firearms and 1,200 rounds of ammunition, as well as racist stickers, computers and USB thumb drives. Fourteen charges have been laid to date and Hulgaard was due to appear in court on Aug. 9.