'Most brazen act of anti-Semitism we've seen': Winnipeg Jewish community reeling after attack at BerMax Caffé

A woman was assaulted and a Winnipeg restaurant was severely vandalized in what police say was likely a hate-related robbery.

Cafe has been target of 4 crimes in 5 months: police

The restaurant was severely vandalized and spray-painted with a swastika. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

UPDATE: Hate-crime attack on café staged, Winnipeg police say

A woman was assaulted and a Winnipeg restaurant was spray-painted with hateful graffiti Thursday, police say. 

Police were called to BerMax Caffé and Bistro, on Corydon Avenue just east of Kenaston Boulevard, around 10:45 p.m. 

The woman was taken to hospital in stable condition, treated and released, police say.

Police say the entire restaurant was "severely vandalized" and spray-painted with anti-Semitic graffiti. Police are investigating whether a robbery also took place. 

The inside of the restaurant was almost entirely destroyed, with plates and glasses smashed to pieces, tables and chairs flipped over and other items scattered across the floor, according to police.

The same restaurant has been targeted with similar crimes four times in the past five months, Const. Rob Carver told reporters at a news conference Friday. 

'Horrified and saddened'

"I just can't fathom how or why people would want to do such a terrible act," said Elaine Goldstine, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. "We are horrified and saddended." 

Goldstine said previous incidents were limited to anti-Semitic graffiti. "This [violent attack] has taken things to the next level," she said. 

She noted that Friday night marks Passover, a major Jewish holiday. 

Elaine Goldstine, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, and communications director Adam Levy were stunned to learn of the attack at BerMax Caffé and Bistro. (Submitted by Adam Levy)

"We're absolutely in awe to be honest, we're in shock about this senseless act of hatred which has taken place in our own community, in our own backyard," said Adam Levy, communications director of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg.

"It's the most brazen act of anti-Semitism that we've seen in our community, and perhaps ever. We hope this is not a sign of things to come," he said.

'Disheartening ... disturbing'

Kristin Unrau lives just next to the plaza where the cafe is located, and was shocked to see the anti-Semitic vandalism continue.

"It's very disheartening. We live in a society right now where I feel that people should respect who we are and each other, and just get along," she said. "To see something like this in the neighbourhood and so close to home, it's very disturbing."

Unrau was out for a walk with her dog when she saw the restaurant taped off, and instantly knew what had happened.

A Winnipeg Police Service officer takes a photo for evidence. (Travis Golby/CBC)

"It's awful. It's an awful feeling, to know that people are going for essentially a hate crime because of who you are or what you believe in. That should be something that everybody should respect," she said.

Unrau said she's concerned for regulars who may no longer feel safe after the cafe was targeted yet again. 

"Going forward, it concerns me in the sense that, when will it stop? How can we get it to stop? And when will they be able to feel safe in their business and operate as such, and have those patrons come in and be comfortable?" she said.

Just down the street at Westworth United Church, Rev. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd was starting her Good Friday sermon when she was informed of the news.

MacKenzie Shepherd said after previous incidents, she's made a point to stop in to the cafe and show solidarity. But the cafe has yet to reopen after Thursday's incident. 

Rev. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, a minister at Westworth United Church, came directly to BerMax Caffé and Bistro after her Good Friday sermon ended to show her solidarity and offer support to the Jewish community. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

"It's heartbreaking ... there's many reasons for fear and violence, misunderstanding is one of them, my wish is for all of those who are inclined to hate, to stop a bit, and to have the courage to speak," she said. "I would like to sit down with someone who has that hate and need to hear why and understand what is going on inside of you." 

Police are asking anyone with information to contact investigators at 204-986-6219 or CrimeStoppers at 204-786-TIPS (8477).

CBC's calls to the business owners were not immediately returned on Friday.