Vancouver’s Jewish community responds to rise in anti-Semitism

Incidents like San Diego synagogue shooting ‘becoming all too familiar’ says rabbi

“Shock, horror, outrage — and a bit of ‘Here we go, again.’”

Those were Rabbi Dan Moskovitz’s first thoughts after he heard a shooting at a San Diego synagogue had left one person dead and three others injured on April 27, the last day of Passover.
“It's becoming all too familiar… not just in the Jewish community following Pittsburgh, but in faith communities all around the world,” said Moskovitz, the senior rabbi at Vancouver’s Temple Sholom.

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“It feels like the new normal, and there's nothing normal about it.” 

Saturday’s shooting is the latest in a recent string of deadly attacks on places of worship across the globe. On Easter Sunday, terrorists in Sri Lanka targeted churchgoers and tourists in a spate of bombings that killed 253 people. Nearly six months before, a gunman murdered 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Moskovitz says the Rabbinical Association of Vancouver and the B.C. Interfaith Council are in the early stages of planning a large, multi-faith demonstration to show “there’s no place for hate in Vancouver.” He hopes the event will occur sometime in the next two weeks.

Synagogues in Vancouver have long taken significant security measures to protect their staff and congregants. Most keep their doors locked, requiring visitors to identify themselves through an intercom before entering.  

But after the Pittsburgh attack, Moskovitz said all synagogues and Jewish centres in the city went through “security audits.”

“We convened our security committee after Pittsburgh, and they've been meeting pretty regularly since,” said Moskovitz, when reached by phone on Monday.

He says Temple Sholom now practises more evacuation drills to ensure staff and schoolchildren know what route to get out of the building and where to regroup in the event of an emergency.

In a statement to the Courier, the Vancouver Police Department said there was no heightened threat to the city’s synagogues since the San Diego attack.

“We have been in contact with [Jewish] community leaders to ensure the community feels safe and supported,” said Con. Jason Doucette.

Ezra Shanken, the chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, emphasized the support the Jewish community receives from law enforcement.

“I cannot play down how vital the partnership is between our Jewish community and law enforcement,” said Shanken. “We work very closely with them as we work to ensure that we're doing everything we can to make our institutions the safest that they can be.”

On Monday, two days after the San Diego attack, B’Nai Brith Canada released its annual report on anti-Semitism detailing an ongoing rise of anti-Semitic incidents in Canada over the past five years. The report recorded more than 2,000 acts of bigotry towards Jews last year, a 16 per cent increase from 2017.

British Columbia saw a particularly dramatic uptick in documented anti-Semitic events in 2018, experiencing a 126 per cent increase from the year before.

“We are experiencing a disturbing new normal when it comes to anti-Semitism in this country, with expressions of anti-Jewish hatred surfacing in regions that are typically less prone to such prejudices,” said Michael Mostyn, chief executive officer of B’nai Brith Canada. 

“Of particular concern is the rise of anti-Semitic harassment on social media, including death threats, threats of violence and malicious anti-Jewish comments and rhetoric.”

This past weekend, the Globe and Mail released a comprehensive analysis of far-right, online forums based in Canada that supports Mostyn’s concerns about a growing online movement of hate. The posts described by the Globe are littered with anti-Semitic sentiment and support for Nazi ideology.

Rabbi Moskovitz attributes this rise in anti-Semitism — which he prefers to call “Jew-hatred” ­— to the recent ascendance of right-wing nationalism. He specifically referenced American President Donald Trump’s controversial remarks following the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.

“When you normalize this kind of language, when you don't call it out at the very beginning… then you give licence, agency and permission to those who hate to expand their hate,” said Moskovitz.

But he says he’s not very worried about attacks on Canadian synagogues.

“I'm not fearful. I don't think that this is going to happen here,” said Moskovitz. “Could there be an incident? Yes, but there's no guarantees in life.”

Moments after the shooting on Saturday, Rabbi Yishoel Goldstein, who lost a finger in the attack, reportedly told his congregants gathered outside the synagogue that “terrorism like this will not take us down." 

Both Moskovitz and Shanken agree these attacks shouldn’t prevent people from attending their place of worship.
“The rabbi in the synagogue in San Diego made it very clear that the only response to attacks like this is to keep showing up,” said Shanken.



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