The Jewish owner of a Vancouver restaurant is speaking out, after being subjected to threats as violence flared in the Middle East earlier this month.
Ofra Sixto moved to Canada from Israel 30 years ago, in large part to escape the violence and tensions there.
In December 2019 she opened Ofra’s Kitchen on Denman Street, which she described as more of a home than a restaurant.
“I don’t treat anybody like it is a restaurant, but rather like ‘I am your mom and this is your food, let’s go.’ If they leave anything on their plate I’m like, ‘what’s that, why did you leave that?'” she said.
But as fighting in the Israel-Palestinian conflict intensified, Sixto said she started to feel those tensions here.
She said it started with a threatening phone call.
“They said that they will grind me and rape me, and kill me,” she told Global News.
“I cannot believe that I heard this in Vancouver. I would expect it in Israel when I lived there, but not here,” she said.
“Especially not because this being a restaurant where I have so many Middle Eastern people coming here, and I speak Arabic with them and I put on Arabic music for them — it is a home to so many.”
It is not known who made the phone call or why.
According to Sixto, the hate and threats continued online and escalated to protesters showing up outside her restaurant on Monday.
Sixto has since installed security cameras and her family has asked her to stop working alone.
Vancouver police say they’ve been called to the restaurant three times so far this year.
“All very concerning. We are very aware, our hate crimes unit has been advised,” Vancouver police Const. Tania Visintin said.
The incidents have left Sixto feeling unsafe in an environment that was, until now, her second home.
For the first time in years, she said, she feels echoes of the anxiety that was a part of her daily life in Israel, where a discarded bag on the street was a reason to call 911 in case it contained a bomb.
“It took me years before I actually saw a deserted bag and I thought ‘this is just a deserted bag.’ I don’t want to go back to that feeling again,” she said.
“Politics I can leave outside. The love and the food and the people comes here, that’s it, that’s all I want.”
-With files from Jordan Armstrong