Jack Knox: Anti-Semitic graffiti a reminder of what we don't always see

By noon Thursday, the anti-Semitic graffiti was gone, scrubbed from the masonry at the entrance to Victoria’s Chabad Centre for Jewish Life and Learning.

Across Glasgow Street, a rainbow of children from the two-storey building’s daycare tumbled around a Topaz Park playground.

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Presumably these were the same children, pre-schoolers by the look of them, who first encountered the scrawled hate on Tuesday morning. “Kill Jews,” it read. “Gas Jews.”

The good news — if you can call it that — is that Rabbi Meir Kaplan was shocked. It would be worse if such vandalism were commonplace, but no, this was new. “We’ve never experienced anything like this,” he said. “We’ve never experienced anything like this in this city.”

Kaplan wondered: Did the perpetrators even know the significance of the timing, that this was the week of Yom HaShoah — Holocaust Memorial Day — when the world remembers the Nazi genocide in which six million Jews were murdered?

That’s the way in which many of us think of anti-Semitism, as an anachronism, a grim, grainy black-and-white image from somewhere long in the past and far away, not Victoria, not today.

But then, most of us are seldom exposed to other forms of hate, either. If you’re one of the four in five who don’t stand out because of the colour of your skin, or the way you worship or dress, then it would be easy to assume from your own experience that such ugliness doesn’t exist here. It does. Maybe not to the same degree as in other countries, or even as in the Lower Mainland where the “Asian flu” was used as an excuse to attack Chinese-Canadians, but still …

An example: During last fall’s provincial election campaign, a couple of people in a vehicle pulled over in Saanich to hurl racist slurs at Indo-Canadian Liberal candidate Rishi Sharma. A video shot just afterward showed the surprise and dismay of a pair of white campaign volunteers who witnessed the incident. “I’ve never experienced something like that,” one said. But Sharma’s brother had a different take. “I see it all the time,” he told the others.

Are things getting better? Worse? For some reason it was discouraging to learn that those behind the Chabad Centre graffiti were young. Victoria police, who are investigating the incident as a hate crime, have video of a male and a female, possibly teenagers, at the scene around 10:30 p.m. Monday.

“It’s a reminder that this kind of anti-Semitism and hate is still in our community and we still have a long way to go,” Kaplan said.

Again, though, the good news is that this is still news, rare enough to merit mention, just as it was a decade ago when someone sprayed swastikas on five grave markers in the Jewish cemetery on Cedar Hill Road.

A week after that incident, a vigil drew more than a thousand Victorians, including former city councillor Chris Coleman. I single him out because he was also one of those who, after 50 Muslim worshippers were killed in New Zealand in 2019, followed the lead of Victoria’s Sikh community and, joined by Christians, Jews and others, formed a human chain around Quadra Street’s Al-Iman mosque during Friday prayers. “Sometimes you just have to show up,” he said. No big deal, but occasionally it’s important to quietly stand up and be counted, do the right thing.

Thursday morning, Premier John Horgan issued a statement to mark Yom HaShoah: “As we remember the past, we recognize Jewish people around the world still face threats of violence, discrimination and anti-Semitism today. Let us continue to remember, teach young people and speak out against anti-Semitism whenever we see it.” Was that statement made with the premier’s own hometown, Victoria, in mind? Who would have thought it would be needed here?

Thursday afternoon, Kaplan returned to the Chabad Centre to find the same masonry on which the graffiti had been scrawled had been covered in messages of support, presumably from neighbours. “You belong here,” read one. ” You’re well-loved in this community,” said another. Kaplan found it heartwarming.

jknox@timescolonist.com

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