Five windows were smashed at Kehillat Shaarei Torah synagogue in north Toronto

Window repair workers place a polycarbonate pane into a window frame during repairs to five windows at Kehillat Shaarei Torah on April 19, 2024. (Credit: Jonathan Rothman)

UPDATE (4/21/24):  “This is being investigated as a Suspected Hate Motivated Incident and investigators are in consultation with the Hate Crime Unit,” reports the Toronto Police Service.

The Toronto Police Service (TPS) is investigating after five windows were smashed at Kehillat Shaarei Torah (KST) in North York during the early hours of Friday, April 19.

This is the first attack of this type on a synagogue in Toronto since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel and ensuing Gaza war, and comes amid continuous months of reports of ever-increasing levels of antisemitic incidents in the city.

According to KST’s executive director Michael Gilmore, the reality of such an attack reaching Toronto communities, and a synagogue here, felt sad and somewhat inevitable.

“It’s very much a feeling of sadness [that] the community is now going to have to deal with this, that there are people that are going to come to their morning minyan and they’re going to see their synagogue with broken windows and it’s going to elicit a lot of pain and a lot of inner fears that we just have in our subconscious as Jewish people,” Gilmore told The CJN on Friday afternoon at the site of the Bayview Avenue house of worship.

While The CJN was on location, window repair workers were securing polycarbonate panes into the window frames over several broken double glass windowpanes, hours ahead of Shabbat and Passover.

Gilmore also has his suspicions about the timing of the incident, which took place hours after Israel struck at military targets in Iran on Thursday evening—a retaliation of Iran’s drone and missile attack launched at Israel on April 13.

“I can’t draw conclusions, but they somewhat draw themselves.”

Gilmore says there’s no question the attack was a hate crime.

“The reality of the situation is we were the victim of an antisemitic crime and we’re not the first, we’re definitely not going to be the last, so we have to move forward, and we have to be positive, but be proactive as well,” he says.

TPS confirmed Sunday, April 21, that the Hate Crime Unit was being consulted and that the incident was being investigated as a suspected hate-motivated incident.

Smashed windows

Security video shows that someone approached the building after 3 a.m. Friday morning and smashed a number of windows.

Michael Gilmore, executive director of Kehillat Shaarei Torah in Toronto, stands beside one of five windows smashed at the synagogue, as seen from inside, on April 19, 2024. (Credit: Jonathan Rothman)

“They kind of walk down the building and then took a hammer and smashed the north side windows first,” he said, pointing to where the main entrance is located.

That person then “went around [and] attempted to smash the main door” but didn’t get through, he said. Gilmore said the person with the hammer then smashed three windows on the building’s east side, facing Bayview Avenue. He says they did not try to enter the building.

“It appeared to be just vandalism,” and wilful destruction, said Gilmore.

One of the double-pane windows on the east side of the building at Kehillat Shaarei Torah on Bayview Ave. that was smashed in the early hours of April 19, 2024. The synagogue says security video shows someone with a hammer broke five of the synagogue’s windows. (Credit: Jonathan Rothman)

The broken windows triggered the alarm and the company sent a security guard. Rabbi Joe Kanofksy arrived around 4 a.m. Gilmore came next. A Toronto police constable followed, arriving by 7:30 a.m.

TPS confirmed the vandalism is under investigation.

“On Friday April 19, 2024, at 3:52 a.m., police responded to a Break and Enter call at a synagogue in the Bayview Avenue and Fifeshire Road [area],” wrote a police media relations officer, Caroline de Kloet, in an email to The CJN. “Officers located numerous windows damaged. This is an active and ongoing investigation.”

In an update to The CJN, Michael Gilmore clarified details about the person seen in the security video.

Since Friday, both Jewish advocacy organizations like Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, and other people, had posted on X/Twitter that the vandal was masked.

Gilmore confirmed that the person seen in the video, who smashes the windows with a hammer, is wearing a hooded jacket, gloves, and has their face covered.

But he says there are other rumours he’s heard regarding physical details of the window attacker, or other developments, and he says they aren’t helpful.

“Anything anyone is saying online is not from us or from the police,” he said.

Gilmore told this to The CJN on April 22 after he’d spoken with a TPS investigator who confirmed their work was ongoing. TPS confirmed to The CJN no arrests had been made in connection with the incident.

“This is all the information we have,” said Gilmore.

Security in place

Gilmore says the synagogue has had security cameras in place for some time, and administrators were now planning to meet to discuss upgrades.

“We’re going to be speaking with the executive and the board of the best way to prevent this from happening again.”

Kehillat Shaarei Torah applied for and in the fall of 2023 received an Ontario Anti-Hate Security and Prevention Grant. Gilmore said KST also applied to the federal Communities at Risk: Security Infrastructure Program for funding, but had not yet received a response from Ottawa.

“If someone wants to vandalize your building, it’s going to get vandalized. But we are working on rebuilding what was broken and trying to create a deterrence.”

One of the double-pane windows at Kehillat Shaarei Torah that was smashed in the early hours of April 19, 2024. Bayview Avenue is reflected in the broken windowpane later the same day. (Credit: Jonathan Rothman)

Previous incidents targeting Toronto’s Jewish businesses or institutions since Oct. 7 include a fire, broken windows and “Free Palestine” graffiti found at International Delicatessen Foods in January, which TPS is investigating as a suspected hate-motivated arson. In the summer of 2021, antisemitic graffiti was found painted on Beth Sholom Synagogue during a rash of antisemitic incidents around that time.

Synagogues in Fredericton, Montreal (where multiple attacks occurred), and Surrey, B.C., have also been vandalized since Oct. 7.

Jewish community asked to be vigilant: UJA

Late Friday, news of the targeted Orthodox synagogue reached the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s vice president in charge of countering antisemitism and hate, Noah Shack.

“We stand with Kehillat Shaarei Torah in the wake of this sickening crime,” Shack told The CJN. “This is yet another example of a synagogue in our city facing the kind of threats and dangers that no community should have to confront.”

Shack called on the wider Toronto community to show its support for their Jewish neighbours, and to make it clear “Jew hatred has no place here.”

While UJA’s own security team works with the synagogue and police on this incident, Shack is encouraging Jewish community members to “exercise healthy vigilance.”

“If you see something, please say something by reporting it to police.”

They also are asking anyone who lives near KST and has security camera footage that may assist the investigation to please contact Toronto police without delay.

Resilience

At Kehillat Shaarei Torah, a Kabbalat Shabbat service scheduled for Friday evening was scheduled to go ahead as planned, as well as a bar mitzvah on Saturday. Michael Gilmore had a message for the vandal.

“It’s [done] to strike fear and to make people afraid to go to synagogue. But that will not happen–and I understand if some people do not want to come to certain Jewish events because it is scary–and that is a very real fear and completely understandable,” he said.

“But we should also acknowledge that we can’t let fear win.”

One of the two broken windows on the north side of the building at Kehillat Shaarei Torah, facing Fifeshire Road, which had been smashed overnight from the outside, seen from inside the synagogue during glass repair work after the early morning incident, Friday, April 19, 2024. (Credit: Jonathan Rothman)

Stay with The CJN for further updates on this developing story.