Seventy-year-old Alan Cohen, a lifelong Torontonian, says he proudly wears his kippah because it’s part of who he is.
“This kippah,” Cohen said pointing at the embroidered cap on his head. “This is who I am and it’s here to remind me of who I am.”
Cohen, an Orthodox Jew, believes his religion is the reason he was targeted in an unprovoked attack by a stranger outside the Best Buy store at Dufferin Street and Wilson Avenue as he was returning to his car with the aid of a walker, around 3:30 last Wednesday afternoon.
“He came up from behind me, swiped off the kippah, threw it on the ground and started stomping on it. And I said to him, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Cohen recalled.
“(He) probably didn’t expect that kind of reaction because he went to do it again.”
The retired videographer said the suspect, who was wearing a surgical mask and who seemed angry, then began hurling racial slurs.
“I couldn’t make out clearly what he was saying although I heard ‘Jew’ mentioned a few times and a few other derogatory words,” said Cohen.
The suspect then continued kicking the blue and beige-embroidered kippah before running off.
“There was a young couple who approached me and he takes out his kippah and says, ‘I can give you my kippah.’ I said, ‘That’s nice but that’s OK,'” said Cohen, who said a passerby called police, something he wasn’t sure he would have done himself.
On Friday, Toronto police released two surveillance images of a person in a surgical mask wanted for the hate-motivated assault. Hours later, Khristoff Gordon, 29, of no fixed addressed was arrested and charged with assault and mischief.
The accused appeared in a north Toronto courtroom by phone on Monday. The matter put over until Tuesday.
Cohen is physically unharmed and said he was not initially going to call the police, until a couple of passersby offered.
“I said, ‘Do you really think it’s going to make a difference?’ The couple replied, ‘It might make a difference to the next guy,'” he recalled.
Cohen said it then made sense for him to report the incident to police.
Noah Shack, vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, called the incident very troubling and concerning.
“Nobody should be walking around in fear, looking over their shoulder or hiding who they are, because of fear of violence, being targeted with assault, just because of their identity,” Shack said.
Shack said the attack wasn’t just on the individual but the Jewish community as a whole.
“It has a reverberating effect,” Shack added, saying he is concerned in general about the rise in antisemitism.
Cohen is grateful to the Toronto police for how they investigated the case and wishes he could talk to the suspect and ask him if he would attack a man wearing a turban or another piece of clothing that identifies him with another religious group.
“Antisemitism has got to be the oldest hatred in the world and the chances of us trying to get rid of it are pretty slim,” Cohen said, saying it’s the second time in his life he’s been targeted because of his religion.
“Fifty-five years ago, when I was 15 years old, I was riding my bicycle at Bathurst and Finch and some guy went by and leaned out the window and swiped off my head and knocked off the kippah,” Cohen said.
“Things haven’t changed that much, have they?”