“The conversations we held with FBI officials and the local Jewish community’s security director were chilling and eye-opening. As we surveyed the physical damage to the building and received a minute-by- minute account of the attack, we searched for answers—knowing that what we could learn may just save lives one day,” says Adam.
UJA launched its UJA Community Security initiative in May 2019. Our team went to work assessing needs and testing concepts to maximize the security preparedness of Jewish institutions and community members across the GTA. The goal was to build a comprehensive strategy to protect Jewish life and the Jewish way of life. This began with several programs, including a hotline for community members to report antisemitic incidents directly to UJA’s security professionals. We built close relationships with law enforcement partners so we could share police guidance with Jewish institutions in a rapid manner. As well, we began conducting training programs on security procedures for Jewish organizations, so we could build capacity within institutions to strengthen their own preparedness with ongoing support from UJA.
“It’s critical we give Jewish institutions the tools to take shared ownership of their own security. This has been the successful approach of many Jewish communities around the world similar to our own. It’s proven to be the most effective way to complement the work of law enforcement and paid security personnel,” says Tal Toubiana, UJA’s Director of Community Security.
Over the course of 2019 and early 2020, we continued growing UJA Community Security’s capacity with new core skill sets. It was during this ramp-up phase that another alarming development occurred: a series of events that revealed just how much the landscape was shifting.
“BABY KILLERS!”: ANTISEMITISM SURGES IN TORONTO
The flare of violence targeting the people of Israel in May 2021 sparked a flare of antisemitism here at home.
“Time and time again we have seen that anti-Israel agitation leads to attacks on Jewish community members,” says Tal.
But May was different. The events of that month tested our community in new ways. Over the course of a few weeks, a flurry of phone calls came in from community members reporting antisemitism in the streets of our city. UJA took the unprecedented step of publicly releasing a report on antisemitic incidents shared with UJA Community Security to expose for our neighbours just how alarming the situation had become. Before May, the monthly average of incidents reported by community members was 10 to 12. During May, this number spiked five times, with more than 50 reports of antisemitic incidents.
“Incidents in May ranged from harassment to graffiti, to vandalism, and even physical assault,” says Tal.
A father and his young child walking downtown were told they should be gassed and burned. Another community member had bottles thrown at them. “Jews are inbred,” yelled the assailants. A family was harassed and called “baby killers” in public, by a group of people in a vehicle flying a Palestinian flag. The list goes on. One of the worst moments was a protest organized by Palestinian activists. Protesters assaulted a small counter-demonstration of Jewish community members while shouting vile antisemitic slurs.
In an emergency address to our community, UJA’s President & CEO Adam Minsky said: “This is what happens when hatred against Israel takes root in Canadian society. This is the compound effect of anti- Israel activists spending decades demonizing Israel in the most vicious and slanderous terms. It was only a matter of time before those who target the Jewish state’s very existence would openly and brazenly begin targeting their Jewish neighbours here in Toronto.”
This is the one of the most important challenges facing us—and one of the greatest threats to the thriving Jewish future we seek to build for our children and grandchildren. Our response has reflected that reality. We moved quickly to modify our three-year Strategic Plan, then under development, to prioritize the fight against antisemitism.
UJA and agency partners are advancing a unified strategy in this fight, with a significant emphasis on empowering community members to make a meaningful difference for the cause. This effort is being coordinated by UJA’s new Senior Vice President, Countering Antisemitism and Hate, Steven Farber. Key to this unified approach is a recognition that we need to do things differently, by both strengthening our current efforts and creating new tools to equip our community for this new environment.
This strategy relies on mobilizing community volunteers through UJA Genesis, be it for advocacy among non- Jewish peers, on social media, or to our elected officials. No matter the method, these activists will help us push back against antisemitism wherever we find it. A key focus is on bolstering our efforts to counter antisemitism in areas where the threat is rapidly shifting, including online, in the arts sector, in the corporate world, and in academia. No less important, we will be leveraging our community-wide network of Jewish education and identity-building programs to equip our youth with the knowledge and pride to navigate this challenge. All of this will build upon and strengthen existing UJA-funded efforts to counter antisemitism. This includes the strategic work of our advocacy agent, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), our campus partner Hillel Ontario, and UJA’s Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre.
Meanwhile, UJA Community Security is advancing its important work to build a culture of healthy vigilance and empowerment when it comes to our collective security. Today, the team is home to specialists with robust security expertise from Canada, Israel, and Australia, including in the fields of security, defence, and counterterrorism. With added expertise and capacity, we entered the 2021 High Holidays with enhanced capabilities in intelligence gathering, volunteer engagement, and incident support. In partnership with Toronto Police Service, we also launched neighbourhood pop-up locations to help community members report incidents during the holidays without using technology. We continue expanding training programs to support local institutions, as we prepare for Jewish life to increasingly return to in-person activities in 2022.
Our plan in the coming years is to ensure as many organizations as possible have trained volunteers and staff equipped and deployed to help protect their institutions.
“Our aim is nothing less than a community confident and prepared in the face of threats, especially in the way Jewish community members publicly and proudly live Jewish lives,” says Tal.
This work has never mattered more. We stand at a profound turning point. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks zt”l once reminded us why antisemitism matters not just for our community, but for all. “Antisemitism is the world’s most reliable early warning sign of a major threat to freedom, humanity, and the dignity of difference. It matters to all of us. Which is why we must fight it together.”
In this fight, vital progress is being made because of your gift, and your shared commitment to pushing back against hate.
11 Toronto Police Service