Hundreds showed up to walk a Toronto boy to school after his family said he’s been facing antisemitic harassment from other kids

In Toronto, community members come to walk a boy to school whose family says he has faced ongoing antisemitic bullying, May 17, 2024.

About 200 people came to a suburban Toronto neighbourhood on the morning of May 17 to support a child whose family says he has been the victim of ongoing antisemitic verbal and physical harassment at school.

The family, fearing for the boy’s safety, asked for the community’s support to walk with him for the one block between their North York house and the Faywood Arts-Based Curriculum School, which is overseen by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

The first incident, said the boy’s mother, Adi Cohen, occurred November 2023 when her son, Hillel, now 10, was surrounded by three children in the schoolyard, who were “pushing and shoving him, and saying they want to ‘do to him what Hamas did to Israel.’”

Cohen says her son said the principal saw the incident and broke up the fight, but told Hillel she didn’t have time to hear the entire story.

Hillel came back to the schoolyard, and was shoved again, and heard the students say: “We need to kill you all and you need to bow down to us.” The situation was defused by a teacher.

Cohen said she filed a police report the next day, and later met with the principal and vice-principal about the situation. Hillel has since transferred to another school.

“They said they investigated the incident and they wanted us to know that ‘comments were made on both sides.’ At the end of the day, they took the aggressors’ side on this.”

The school’s superintendent, Domenic Giorgi, sent in Corinne Promislow, a principal who does not work in the school, to conduct an external investigation, according to Cohen. Promislow has been “coming in and out of the school since that time,” and verified her son’s side of the story.

Last December, at the school’s soccer field, the same children had been allegedly kicking Eitan, 13, her older son, and swearing at him, where they “used specific words that could be identified as antisemitic,” according to Cohen.

Over the course of six months, she said the same children were frequently making faces, obscene gestures, and using coarse epithets at her sons—who felt it futile to report it. 

The day before the community gathering, she said that during recess the same two children spat in Eitan’s direction, and “threw multiple rocks and sticks” at him. 

A letter sent by Faywood principal Katia Robles to parents on May 17 addressed the community walk and the allegations.

“Yesterday, it was reported to us that a small group of students were throwing stones, among other items, at each other at various times during the day. We have not been made aware of any physical injuries as a result of these incidents and are working directly with the impacted students and their families to provide support,” the letter stated.

“We are taking these allegations very seriously and are fully investigating to better understand what happened and ensure that all relevant information has been collected. This investigation will also take into consideration previous incidents at the school.

“Student safety is our number one priority. All students deserve to feel safe and welcome at school. As we’ve shared through regular newsletters, throughout the year, Faywood Arts-Based Curriculum School has provided a range of learning opportunities for students, staff and the community on issues such as
combatting hate and racism, including antisemitism, and anti-bullying.”

In March, Cohen hired Diamond and Diamond Lawyers to file a legal suit against the Toronto District School Board, the principal and vice-principal and superintendent. She said she could not discuss details of the case with The CJN.  

Tamara Gottlieb, founding member of Jewish Educators and Family Association (JEFA), spoke to the crowd who gathered to walk the boy to school, encouraging community members to speak out against Jew hatred.

Parents with children at the school also attended the gathering.

“We have learned about Jew hatred, that school board equity departments and policies are more about equal outcome, than they care about Jewish children facing hate,” parent Aaron Kucharczuk told the crowd.

“And we know the school board doesn’t take antisemitism seriously, because we hear stories like this over and over again, with no action being taken. It remains the case, that when there is a safety risk, they do not remove the safety risk. And because of that, there is a very real fear of coming forward. We aren’t here today because this is the first time they’ve been subject to violent antisemitic attacks. This is the second, third, and many.”

Michael Anthony, also in attendance, has two children at the school—a son and daughter—who in previous years have experienced antisemitism there, he said.

He said he is worried “not because of what’s going in the school, but yes, because of everything that’s going on in the world, what kids learn in the home, and the way it filters into the classroom.”

His son, in Grade 8, is friends with Eitan. Anthony attended “to support my son’s friend and his family—to show in my community, my neighbourhood, that anyone trying to bring hate and discrimination into the public sphere is going to be met with that hate being called out.”

Local resident Michael Nadal initially was pessimistic whether the community would heed the call, as minutes before 8 a.m. “there were just a handful of people,” but moments later the area “was jammed with hundreds of people.”

“I learned about the institutional discrimination that Eitan and his family have faced from the school, the school board, trustees, and other organizations that should be supporting victims of discrimination and abuse,” he told The CJN.

Nadal has two children aged 15 and 17 in Toronto public schools, and said, “they have faced the madness in the curriculum, in the libraries, from other students and from educators.”

Ward 5 school trustee Alexandra Lulka Rotman, whose district includes the Faywood school, told The CJN in an emailed statement that she “was outraged and troubled to hear of this incident” and has been in touch with the family to let them know she is monitoring the situation, and the school’s response, “very closely.”

She added that she has spoken with the superintendent to express her “serious concerns.”

“I have witnessed pervasive antisemitism in our school board, and I too have been its target. The board needs to take a stand and draw the line, especially when it comes to student safety. All students, including Jewish and Zionist students, have the right to feel safe in their schools and in their classrooms,” she said.

In her discussions with TDSB senior staff, she said she made it “clear that the incidents that occur in our schools have broad impact—on the student, the family, the school community, and the broader community in York Centre.

“It is vital that our schools take these incidents seriously, and recognize the traumatic effect they have on Toronto Jews who are concerned by the drastic spike in local and global antisemitism. Both the personal and communal impact is clearly visible this morning.”