Winnipeg synagogue 'hit hard' by swastika spray-painted outside, congregant says

Laya Kneller noticed the bright yellow hate symbol haphazardly spray-painted on the side of a garbage bin in the back lane behind the Chevra Mishnayes Synagogue.

Hate symbol found Friday scrawled on garbage bin behind Chevra Mishnayes Synagogue

A yellow swastika scrawled on a garbage bin behind the Chevra Mishnayes Synagogue. (Submitted by Marshall Kneller/Chevra Mishnayes Synagogue)

A child of Holocaust survivors first spotted the anti-Semitic emblem scrawled outside a Winnipeg synagogue on Friday.

Laya Kneller noticed the bright yellow swastika haphazardly spray-painted on the side of a garbage bin in the back lane behind the Chevra Mishnayes Synagogue.

"It just hit hard," she said. "The stories that my parents have told me ... that was the beginning of the end."

Her husband is the president of the synagogue in Garden City.

Marshall Kneller said he is uncertain when the spray-painting occurred. It appeared to him that the culprits had made several runny attempts to paint something on the various sides of the grey bin.

"They weren't very adept at doing this," he said. "But there is one that very clearly is a swastika."

Symbol of hatred

For 55 years, Marshall said the Jewish assembly has been worshipping at the building near the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Sinclair Street. The congregation has existed in the city since 1908.

It does take a toll, but it will not deter us from holding our services here.- Marshall Kneller, president of Chevras Mishnayes Synagogue

His wife's deep roots amplified her pain, he said.

"My in-laws — her parents — were Holocaust survivors, so when she sees something like this, it just triggers terrible memories of what her parents went through."

Marshall said the impact ripples through the small community.

"To me it's just an act of vandalism," he said. "Pure hatred."

Marshall said swastikas are "probably one of the most recognizable symbols of hatred that I can think of in the 20th century."

The couple reported it to police and B'nai Brith early Friday, and spoke out to local media.

The national anti-hate advocacy group tracks hatred against Jews in its annual audits.

For the third year in a row, it reported that anti-Semitism was the rise in Canada.

A Winnipeg high school student mocked for her "Jewish nose" and a Manitoba woman hearing "You Jews deserve to die" were among the 2,041 incidents — up 16.5 per cent from the previous year — reported to B'nai Brith.

This is not the first time the synagogue has been targeted by anti-Semitism.

Marshall said one of the congregation's members reminded him this weekend that a shed in the back lane had been previously pillaged with a painting of a large swastika, which they had covered up with wood.

Over the years, Marshall said anti-Semitic graffiti has been slapped on the side of the building, a smaller swastika was carved into their wooden door and mail delivered to the religious place of worship had been torched.

"There was mail in our mail box that you could see was lit on fire. [It was] put out, obviously, but it was on fire and there was some — not a swastika, but — just terrible messages written on the letters, on our own mail."

Those messages included different names for calling Jews "that are just disgusting," he said.

Marshall said students from the school across the street were found responsible for lighting the letters on fire. "Unfortunately, not too much was ever done about that."

He had approached the principal, but he doesn't know what happened to the students or if there was any retribution.

Carrying on

Marshall said it won't stop the synagogue from serving the community.

"It does take a toll, but it will not deter us from holding our services here," he said. "It's terrible to see."

Much like his in-laws, many of their older members lived through the Holocaust. "They've seen these kinds of things growing up, and it's very, very disheartening to them, to say the least."

As of Friday, the hate symbol was still there. Marshall said police told him they were going to contact the city to have it removed, he said.

More bins are kept locked up in a wire cage. They will swap out the tainted bin, if they have to.

"It frightens me," his wife said.

"I don't know what kind of wake up call [is needed]. We've had so many horrible, horrible things that have happened in the [United] States and in Europe and Paris, and we're still letting it happen. I just don't know why the complacency exists," Laya said.

"There needs to be education, and it needs to stop."


With files from Erin Brohman