Hamilton synagogue vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti, police investigating

Hamilton police hate crime unit is investigating after anti-Semitic graffiti was found at Beth Jacob synagogue on Saturday.

Holocaust survivor saw swastika on his way to the Saturday service

The Hamilton police hate crime unit is investigating after anti-Semitic graffiti was found at the Beth Jacob Synagogue. (Google Maps)

The Hamilton police hate crime unit is investigating after anti-Semitic graffiti was found at a Hamilton synagogue. 

When Rabbi Hillel Lavery-Yisraeli arrived at the Beth Jacob Synagogue on Saturday morning for bible study, he discovered that anti-Semitic symbols had been drawn around the property. 

The graffiti — chalk drawings of a swastika and the word 'Jews' crossed out — was found in four places, including two spots in the parking lot, in a lane, and on the sidewalk of Aberdeen Avenue. 

Lavery-Yisraeli said that while he has experienced anti-Semitic hate before, the drawings caught him off guard. 

"It was very hard for me, harder than I expected" he said. "It was very hard for me to go about business as usual knowing that there are these hateful people in the neighbourhood who really want us gone.

"Is that where society is in 2019? Is that the Canada we're raising our children in?" 

Rabbi explained graffiti to 6-year-old son

When Hamilton police arrived, they parked their cruiser on top of the graffiti to block it from sight as people gathered for the 9:15 a.m. morning service. 

But several attendees saw the graffiti, including an 80-year-old Holocaust survivor. 

"He went through the Holocaust, he was in camps, he saw this symbol all around being used to murder Jewish people and now...he has to encounter this again on a peaceful Sabbath morning," he said. "It's heartbreaking and shocking." 

Lavery-Yisraeli also had to explain the graffiti to his six-year-old son, who was struggling to read it from the synagogue window. 

"This is the Hamilton that he's living in," he said. "It's something you would hope a young child would not have to hear, wouldn't have to know about. And yet we know so many people in Hamilton are suffering and throughout the world. He needs to know to be careful." 

He addressed the congregation with a heavy heart, just one day after being a facilitator at a conference focusing on hate and racism in the city. On Saturday, he also participated in the Gandhi Peace Festival walk. 

People from the Mother Goose Co-operative Preschool drew hearts and sunshines on the sidewalk outside of the synagogue this morning. (Beth Jacob Synagogue/Facebook)

Police investigating as hate crime

Const. Jerome Stewart confirmed that the case has been forwarded to the hate crime unit. Officers will be appealing for witnesses to check security cameras to find out the people responsible for the graffiti. 

The Hamilton Jewish Federation says it is offering police any assistance it can. The federation is thanking local non-Jewish members of the Hamilton community for their solidarity, which they say is "much more reflective of the larger experience [they] have as Jews in Hamilton." 

Lavery-Yisraeli also said that police will be reviewing the synagogue's video footage and will be meeting there later today. He added that Mayor Fred Eisenberger will also visit this week, potentially at the Yom Kippur service. 

He also pointed out that the graffiti was initially found by security guard, who had been hired after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. Lavery-Yisraeli said that all acts have to be taken seriously because they can escalate to horrible situations. 

"Today, thankfully, it's just chalk drawing in the parking lot," he said. "But if we don't do something about the hate, then very easily and very quickly, it degenerates to something much, much more worse and destructive and people lose their lives." 

The graffiti has since been cleaned up, and the investigation is ongoing. 

Hate against Jewish people has increased

The official opposition leader and MPP for Hamilton Centre, Andrea Horwath, issued a statement condemning the graffiti, as well as an incident at the Hamilton Dowtown Mosque, where an unknown man was seen taking pictures of the congregation. 

"There is no place for hatred, anti-Semitism or Islamophobia in our community.  Acts of vandalism and fear-mongering will not deter us from attending our places of worship and practicing our faiths," she said. "As a community, we must continue to call out these callous and cowardly acts and work collectively to put an end to hate in Hamilton."

Councillor Nrinder Nann (Ward 3) also spoke out on Twitter, calling for people to work together to combat hate in the city. 

In March 2019, Hamilton police released a report saying that while hate-related criminal activity decreased in Hamilton in the previous year, there was an increase in incidents directed at Jewish people. 

Hate incidents against Jewish people in Hamilton have been increasing for the past four years, and from 2017 to 2018 jumped by 25 per cent. 

The graffiti closely follows Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.