Two Toronto synagogues attacked over the Canada Day weekend in a window-smashing spree

Pride of Israel Synagogue in North York was attacked in multiple places on the morning of June 30, 2024. An attacker threw small stones through their stained glass windows and shattered the window panes over their main entrance. (Photos by Carl Zeliger)

When members of Pride of Israel Synagogue in Toronto began showing up for Sunday prayer services on the morning of June 30, in the middle of the Canada Day long weekend, they were shocked to discover several windows shattered, holes in their stained glass and stones scattered onto the bimah.

The congregants stood there for a moment, rattled and disappointed. But that didn’t stop them from holding their 9 a.m. services.

“We’re gonna go on,” Carl Zeliger, vice-chairman of the congregation, told The CJN over the phone as the sounds of broken glass cracked under his feet. “Our service continued today. All [the vandal] accomplished was maybe a five-minute delay in the start of our services. We’re gonna continue. This isn’t going to help them.”

The custodian of the building, which is located near the intersection of Steeles Ave. and Bathurst St., first noticed the damage after arriving at 8 a.m. Police were called by 8:30. A forensic team gathered evidence for several hours until they gave the congregation the green light to clean things up.

The front entrance to Pride of Israel Synagogue, where windows were broken by large rocks on the morning of June 30, 2024. (Photo by Carl Zeliger)

The attack allegedly occurred earlier that morning. A nearby resident told Zeliger that they were awoken by a loud crash shortly before 3 a.m. According to Zeliger, this neighbour looked out their window and saw a motorcyclist wearing a helmet and speeding away. The neighbour then called the police at 3:02 a.m., according to a Toronto Police Service press release.

Police added that they believe the same suspect attacked the Kehillat Shaarei Torah synagogue at 3:30 a.m., throwing another rock at a window—the third such attack on the Bayview Ave. and Fifeshire Rd. building since mid-April, along with an incident involving a dead raccoon left in its parking lot.

Michael Gilmore, executive director of Kehillat Shaarei Torah, confirmed to The CJN that their video cameras captured on tape the motorcyclist pull up to their shul, remove two small objects from their pockets and throw the objects at their windows.

However, because the synagogue had not yet repaired their windows from the previous attack, this latest suspect merely threw the objects at polycarbonate covers that shielded already-broken glass.

“These three separate attacks have encapsulated the very real and present dangers that the Jewish community across Canada faces daily,” Gilmore told The CJN. “Fortunately, as Jewish generations before us have done, we come together as a community stronger, more united, and with a greater sense of purpose than ever before.”

In their press release, Toronto police confirmed they are treating the investigation as being “a suspected hate-motivated offence” and will be increasing police presence in both areas.

The alleged suspect who attacked two synagogues in Toronto between 2:30 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. (Image courtesy of Toronto Police Service)

The damage to the Pride of Israel building, Zeliger says, “is quite significant.” The attacker threw two large, heavy rocks through the windows above the main entrance. They also threw a couple smaller stones that pierced (but did not shatter) the stained glass windows that lead to the sanctuary. Those stones ended up on the bimah.

In addition, the attacker seemingly attempted to break a glass door with a different rock, but that door held strong.

As of Sunday afternoon, the congregants had already contacted professionals to fix the glass, and made immediate plans to call their insurance company and review their safety and security protocols.

Pride of Israel Synagogue traces its roots to 1905, when the Pride of Israel Sick Benefit Society was founded in a house on Chestnut Street in downtown Toronto. The grassroots organization sent doctors and money to community members who were sick or in need. The congregation, which describes itself as “traditionally conservative” yet independent of any Jewish denomination, eventually moved into its current building in North York in 1969.

Its name, Zeliger believes, is partly what made it a target in the long aftermath of Oct. 7.

“If you view this as anything other than antisemitism, I don’t think you’re paying attention to the reality today,” he says. “My parents were Holocaust survivors. This hurts. I love my parents, but I’m happy they’re not here to see this.”

This incident makes Pride of Israel the latest in a wave of antisemitic attacks that has washed over all of Canada, with Jewish buildings being lit aflame, shot at and vandalized in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto and many other cities on a recurring basis.

What struck Zeliger most was how this happened on the eve of July 1.

“We as Canadians are supposed to be joyful of who we are, where we are. But that includes people of all different races, colours, religions, whatever. This is really an affront to everyone—that this is what happened on a Canada Day weekend. It’s basically saying our values dont mean anything. I really would like to see the silent majority come to terms with this. We have to do better. We can make this a better Canada.”