Toronto's Jewish community shaken after attack on teens

As Toronto's Jewish community reels after an attack on a group of Jewish teenagers in the city's north end Sunday night, one of the victims says he's neither afraid nor discouraged.

Victim says he was 'shocked' by violent incident in Bathurst Street and Lawrence Avenue West

Some in Toronto's Jewish community have expressed relief that Sunday's incident wasn’t any worse. (CBC)

As Toronto's Jewish community reels after an attack on a group of Jewish teenagers in the city's north end Sunday night, one of the victims says he's neither afraid nor discouraged. 

The boy says he was brought to the ground and beaten up in Sunday's incident and that his glasses were taken and broken. CBC Toronto is not naming the boy to protect his identity. 

He said he was among the four 17-year-old boys who were targeted by another group of teenagers who began to make fun of them for wearing yarmulkes in the Bathurst Street and Lawrence Avenue West area.

The boy says he came to Canada from Santa Monica, Calif., to study to become a rabbi and tells CBC Toronto he hasn't experienced anything like what happened on Sunday night before.

"It was a very big shock to me," he said. "When I came to Canada, I heard that Canada was not anything like that, especially the city of Toronto.

"Jews went through this all our entire history. That's what we've gone through. And we're here still to talk about it," he added. "I'm not afraid, so I think people should just know that."

Two of the four teens were beaten and one of them robbed, police say. Officers are investigating the incident as a hate crime and have arrested a 17-year-old boy.

Police say they're also looking for nine others who allegedly instigated the hateful attack.

Police Chief Mark Saunders addressed the incident in a video statement on Twitter Tuesday afternoon.

"I want to reassure the public that we will un-turn every stone to locate and apprehend every person that is a suspect to this investigation," Saunders said. 

"A hate crime is one that we will never normalize in this city, and I want to reassure the public that we would do anything and everything to conclude this investigation."

Community remains defiant

While shaken up, some in the community have expressed relief that the incident wasn't any worse.

"They knew how to fend them off and wave down some support and get someone to help them out," said Rabbi Mendy Lieberman, who is a teacher at Yeshivas Lubavitch Toronto.

"Our message is that obviously we grow from these situations and we only try to increase the message of love, the message of light and positivity and peace."

We have all the right to be who we are.- Barbara Ouanounou of Eitz Chaim Schools 

Barbara Ouanounou, principal of general studies of Eitz Chaim Schools' Patricia Campus, said she took the attack on a personal level, adding that her parents were Holocaust survivors.

"No matter what, we have all the right to be who we are and free to practise our religion," she said. "No one could take that away from us."

Barbara Ouanounou of Eitz Chaim Schools says she took Sunday's attack on a personal level. (CBC)

The incident also brought up a lot of emotion for those at the school, and on Tuesday the school held an anti-Semitism presentation.

The students, pre-teen and teen boys like the four who were beaten and kicked Sunday, were tasked with learning about children who died in the Holocaust.

Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, the dean of Eitz Chaim Schools, told CBC Toronto that while society has come a long way since the Holocaust, there are still lessons that apply today.

"They can see the courage and the support that we get from the surrounding community in a way that we did not have in Europe in the 1940s," he said.

With files from Ali Chiasson