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‘We’re standing strong’: Rally held outside North York Jewish school hit with gunfire

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Toronto’s Jewish community held a rally Monday morning  outside of a Jewish girls’ school which was hit with gunfire over the weekend and said they won’t be intimidated by acts of violence.

Crowds of people gathered outside of Bais Chaya Mushka on Cheswood Drive, in the area of Dufferin Street and Finch Avenue, to show their solidarity and support.

Police responded to gunfire at the religious girls’ school in North York at around 5 a.m. on May 25. Nobody was injured, but the hate crime unit is supporting the investigation.

“We’re incredibly concerned. We’ve seen a growing rise in antisemitism since October 7, but we haven’t seen something like we’ve seen this weekend, the shooting at this institution,” said Steve McDonald of UJA Federation. “And we really feel this is not just an attack on this wonderful school but an attack on an entire community.”

He called it a “wake-up call” for the Jewish community and the rest of the city as well.  

“This isn’t the city that we all love. This is very scary, and it’s dangerous not just for our Jewish community. It’s dangerous for the kind of city we all want to live in,” McDonald said. “None of us want to have to drop our kids off at school from behind a heavy police presence.”

He added that “our Jewish community is strong, we’re united, and we take care of each other,” but called on people of all backgrounds to stand up against such violent attacks on any group.

Rabbi Yaakoc Vidal, the principal at the school, told CP24 that the shooting was “shocking.”

“This isn’t close to home, this is home,” he said.

He told CP24 that security footage captured suspects taking aim at the school.

“We were able to see the suspects driving up on the street right here, parking right here across the street from where we are right now. They came up to the fence and fired shots and had people waiting for them in the car and then they drove off,” Vidal said.

He said he’s grateful that a grant from the federal government a few years ago allowed the school to install a fence that prevented the suspects from actually coming onto the property.

Chaya Rabins, a parent at the school, said she’s been honest with her kids in explaining the incident and has told them that they need to be strong.  

“We’re standing strong. We know that they’re trying to scare us and drive us away from our values and who we are, but we’re standing strong,” Rabins said. “We have the support of the community and we trust that, you know, they’re gonna stand behind us. We’re strong. We can do it together.”

Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw and Mayor Olivia Chow attended the rally. Chow told the crowd that “you are not alone.”

“I’m here to provide comfort and assure the children and their families that the city and the police will do everything we can to keep them safe,” she told CP24.

She called antisemitism “a cancer” which signals the decay of a society.

Coun. James Pasternak also spoke at the rally.

“We join the chorus of condemnation of this cowardly, hateful act,” Pasternak said. “I have seen the security video and I asked myself who are these people so consumed by hate that they would come to a girl’s Jewish school and open fire.”

He called it “shameful” and “an affront to all the values we hold dear in our city to target a school where children learn.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce also spoke at the rally and called on the wider community to “stand up and speak up against the vile rise in antisemitism being normalized on the streets of this country, to stand up to those who seek to instill fear in the hearts of young girls and young children.”

He also called on people to stand up in defence of “democracy, civility and the rule of law.”

Toronto police have logged a startling rise in antisemitic hate crimes since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7.

Last week Jewish students at UofT held a news conference to say they feel unsafe on campus in the wake of an encampment protest which has tried to bar them from some university spaces. An artwork unveiled at Toronto City Hall also called for a return to civility in the city.

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