At Toronto‘s Village Shul, like other synagogues around the world, there are clear signs security has been increased.
“People ask all the time and people ask more in the last year than in all the years that I’ve been here,” said Senior Rabbi Tzvi Sytner, adding, “Anti-Semitism is on the rise everywhere across the world.”
At his synagogue, there are films on various windows, lockdown procedures posted all around the building, extra bolts on the locks and a brand new security system is soon going in.
“It’s scary and you have to be alert,” said Sytner.
Sunday will mark one year since the deadliest attack on Jewish people in U.S. history.
The shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh left 11 people dead, including Toronto-born Joyce Fienberg.
For months, the building that was once bustling with activity and prayer has sat empty.
The day after the shooting last year, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said, “It can’t be used again in its present condition. The bullet holes are too numerous to count.”
Finally, though, there are plans to reopen.
“We’ve had, ‘There’s no way I’m setting foot on this property again no matter what you do,’ (and) there’s, ‘Patch it up, paint it, unlock the door let’s get back in,'” recalled Tree of Life executive director Barb Feige.
“We wanted people to know coming up on that one year mark that we are coming back, that we are committing to coming here to honour those that we lost and to show that we are not gone and that evil will not win,” she added.
The Pittsburgh attack was not the only one targeting Jewish people in the last year.
Earlier in October, in Halle, Germany, on Yom Kippur, another synagogue was the target of a shooting in which two people were killed.
“We’re standing on guard continuously as anti-Semitism continues to rise all over the world,” said Avi Benlolo of the Jewish human rights organization Simon Wiesenthal Centre.
“It’s not just a Jewish problem when things like this prop up — this is a societal problem. This indicates a failure of institutions, whether it be schools, religious institutions, government institutions … We haven’t done enough together as a society to not only combat this, but to educate people from when they’re kids about being compassionate caring citizens,” he added.
“We’ve gone from violent words to violent actions,” said Bernie Farber of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
His organization monitors, researches, and counters hate groups by providing education and information on hate groups to the public, courts, law enforcement, and community groups.
“We used to have within police services anti-hate units, hate crime units. They’re gone (and) they have to be re-established,” said Farber, adding, “We used to have within the Canadian Human Rights Act, section 13, which was a regulation dealing with hate on the internet. That has to be brought back and, most of all, we have to have our government engage.”
Back at the Village Shul, the front door is locked at all times. Visitors must knock or ring the bell.
But Rabbi Sytner is always reminding his congregants not to let hate stop them.
“What anti-Semitism wants is for us to hide … they want hatred and they want us to disappear and to live in fear,” said Sytner.
“Either we are going to hide or we’re going to be proud and strong.”