York police arrest man suspected of sukkah vandalism

A photo posted to the Chabad Jewish Centre of Georgina’s profile on Google Maps. (Chabad Jewish Centre of Georgina/Facebook photo)

It didn’t take York Regional Police too long to make an arrest in a case of vandalism that targeted a sukkah at the home of a Chabad rabbi in the town of Keswick, Ont.

Saeed Ahmed of Keswick was taken into custody on Oct. 29 and charged with mischief in relation to religious property.

The arrest brought a sense of relief to Rabbi Yossi Vorovitch, who has lived in Keswick with his family for the past two years.

Rabbi Vorovitch, a native of New York, said the first incident of vandalism occurred on Oct. 19, when he noticed that the interior of the sukkah on his property was in some disarray, though nothing was taken.

In addition, a sign on the outside of the sukkah, featuring a picture of the Lubavitcher rebbe, was defaced. Someone had allegedly entered his yard, removed ashes from an aluminum bucket and smeared some on the “Cha” in “Chabad,” leaving the word “bad,” he said.

About a week later, he had a disturbing run-in with Ahmed, who allegedly appeared at Rabbi Vorovitch’s house on Shabbat and demanded to enter.

“He wanted me to speak in Hebrew,” Rabbi Vorovitch stated. “What concerned me the most is I didn’t know if he was simple or nice, or if he had other intentions. I don’t know what his motives are, what he could do or not do. It was extremely alarming.”

After that incident, Rabbi Vorovitch said he was further concerned when he saw that a photo of Adolf Hitler had been uploaded to the Chabad Jewish Centre of Georgina’s profile on Google Maps, along with a picture of a man wielding a curved sword.

Adding to his concern was that someone had also posted an odd review on the site, saying that there should be more synagogues in Pakistan.

York Regional Police were alerted and an investigation was launched.  Police arrested and charged Ahmed, 35, on Oct. 29. He was scheduled for a bail hearing on Oct. 30.

“We are very pleased that York Regional Police have investigated these alarming incidences so effectively and have been successful in making an arrest,” said Avi Benlolo, the president and CEO of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “In light of world events in which Jewish people have been the target of violence, it is so important that there is no tolerance whatsoever for threatening and hateful behaviour towards our community.”

Writing on its Facebook page prior to the arrest, the Chabad Jewish Center of Georgina stated its “disappointment, shock, horror.

“These were some of the emotions bubbling up inside of us after receiving the email notification that someone had submitted a Google review of our Chabad Jewish Centre composed of a picture of Hitler and a man holding a sword. We would soon discover that this same individual has physically scouted our home and Jewish centre, and even vandalized our property.”


Despite the concerns over the strange set of circumstances that befell him, Rabbi Vorovitch said the community’s response has reassured him. “I want to stress that the outpouring of support from the community is heartwarming,” he said.

He’s received many calls and emails voicing support, while an online campaign to raise money for security cameras and other measures has received pledges of more than $2,000 so far, he noted.

Chabad Georgina in happier times, celebrating Chanukah 2018. (Photo courtesy of Rabbi Yossi Vorovitch)

Political leaders also voiced their support. Rabbi Vorovitch met with Keswick Mayor Margaret Quirk and York-Simcoe MP Scot Davidson on Oct. 30.

Rabbi Vorovitch said he moved to Keswick two years ago to serve the scattered Jewish community of Georgina, Ont., the region that lies south of Lake Simcoe. The community consists of retirees, as well as young couples who have moved to the area because of high housing prices in Toronto.

Chabad offers religious services during the High Holidays at the Jacksons Point synagogue. This year’s services were attended by around 50 people.

In addition, Chabad operates a Sunday school program that’s attended by 10 children, and Rabbi Vorovitch hosts local families for Shabbat dinners, among other activities.