For the second time in less than a month, students have done a Nazi salute in front of classmates in Toronto.
In the latest incident, at Valley Park Middle School on Overlea Boulevard in the Flemingdon Park neighbourhood, two students did the Hitler salute—and one yelled “Heil Hitler”—at a French teacher who is Jewish and the daughter of Holocaust survivors, said Shari Schwartz-Maltz, spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board and chair of the Jewish Heritage Committee.
“It’s so incredible hurtful, she’s pretty traumatized,” Schwartz-Maltz said. “We’ve now had two instances of the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute. This one was particularly hurtful.”
A few weeks prior to the incident, which occurred on Feb. 17, swastikas were found scrawled in the boys’ change room.
Swastikas and other antisemitic graffiti are reported in schools about twice a week, Schwartz-Maltz said.
Earlier this month, at Charles H. Best Junior Middle School a Grade 8 student was targeted with a Nazi salute.
Meanwhile, at Ledbury Park Elementary and Middle School, a teacher likened COVID vaccination passports to Jews being forced to wear the yellow star during the Holocaust. The teacher has been removed from the school, pending an investigation.
The incidents have led Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) to call for “emergency action.”
“Clearly something is broken in Toronto’s public school system and requires immediate attention,” Michael Levitt, CEO of FSWC, said in a statement.
“We are calling for an emergency intervention by the board to address this wave of antisemitism that we see playing out within the student body that will proactively address the hateful stereotypes and misinformation that exist and send a strong message that Jew-hatred will simply not be tolerated within our school.”
The incidents are indicative of a long history of problems at the TDSB, Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, director of policy at FSWC, said in an interview.
“There has been a permissiveness towards very problematic comments and a dismissal of antisemitism that’s gone on for a long time at the board. And now they have a crisis on their hands,” she said. “Now it’s at the point where Jewish teachers are afraid to go to school.”
Valley Park Middle School is across the street from Marc Garneau Collegiate, where students demonstrated in November, chanting “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free.”
“This was supported and enabled by employees of the board,” Kirzner-Roberts noted.
The incidents at Valley Park are “absolutely outrageous and unacceptable,” Noah Shack, vice-president, GTA, of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said in a statement. “We appreciate the clear and immediate response of Valley Park MS principal George Bartzis and the steps taken by the TDSB to address the situation. However, the frequency of antisemitism in Toronto schools underscores the need for proactive measures. “
In a letter sent home to parents Feb. 17, Bartzis said the school will be participating in a presentation next month hosted by Carrying Holocaust Testimony where students “will continue to learn the history and lessons of the Holocaust through meaningful, first-hand testimonials from survivors and their descendants.”
“We are consulting with TDSB equity advisors and other central staff to establish new strategies and tools for addressing antisemitism,” Bartzis wrote to parents.
Holocaust education is not mandated in Ontario until Grade 10, although many teachers introduce it in earlier grades, said Schwartz-Maltz.
The Jewish Heritage Committee has provided board-wide programming every International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jan. 27, as well as programming during Jewish Heritage Month in May, she said.
“The need for even more education and not just responding every time there’s an incident of antisemitism, but proactively, is there. It’s quite evident,” she said. “There’s no question that those at the top of the board agree and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The TDSB has been working with Michelle Glied-Goldstein, the daughter of Holocaust survivors and founder of Carrying Holocaust Testimony, who tells her father’s story through videos and pictures. She had presented to 30 or 40 schools so far, and reached hundreds of students.
Glied-Goldstein’s father was 13, when he was sent to Auschwitz, the same age as many of the students she speaks with, and students can relate to her story about her father’s life, Schwartz-Maltz said.
“We’re all really uncomfortable with what we’re seeing out there,” with incidents of antisemitism increasing, Schwartz-Maltz said. “Senior management has said to me… we need to do more.”