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'We're resilient,' principal says after shooting at Jewish girls school in Toronto

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Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce speaks to journalists at the Queen's Park legislature in Toronto, on Friday,Aug. 25, 2023. Lecce is calling on everyone in the province and beyond to rally behind the Jewish community and stand up against hate after shots were fired at a Jewish girls school over the weekend.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — Students and staff at a Toronto Jewish girls school that was the target of a shooting over the weekend are shaken but undeterred, the principal said Monday as police continue to investigate the incident.

Rabbi Yaacov Vidal of the Bais Chaya Mushka Elementary School said some students were apprehensive about attending classes on Monday but everyone showed up.

"We are united, we're resilient, we're optimistic and we trust in God and we are not going to be deterred," Vidal said in a phone interview.

Toronto police say two suspects fired shots at the school in the city's north end shortly before 5 a.m. Saturday. No one was injured, though there is damage to the building. Police have released video and images of a dark-coloured vehicle in which the suspects fled.

Police say it's too early to say for sure if the shooting was hate-motivated, but politicians are condemning it as an antisemitic act.

Members of the Jewish community, supporters and politicians gathered at the school Monday morning for a rally, with speakers calling for strength and solidarity.

Daniel Held, chief program officer at the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, said the rally was meant to show "what it means to live with tolerance and peace and love for one another."

"(The shooting) was a deliberate attempt to spread fear across our entire Jewish community, to make us cower and hide who we are, but as you can see here today, the attackers completely failed," he said. "We are more determined than ever to fight antisemitism wherever it happens."

Vidal said the Bais Chaya Mushka school had never experienced an incident like this or vandalism in the past.

"We are in an industrial area. So that makes it a lot more shocking that they came to us," he said. "It's not like we are in the heart of the Jewish community or anything like that."

Vidal said the school is grateful for the funding it received through the federal government's security infrastructure program for communities at risk, which allowed for safety measures such as security film on the building's windows and a fenced perimeter.

The fence was a "huge deterrent," he said.

"(The gunmen) had to stand behind it, they could not enter the property. And we're grateful for that as well."

Vidal said the school will be exploring other options to further beef up security in the aftermath of the shooting.

In the meantime, he said students who are experiencing fear and anxiety are being encouraged to turn to their parents or a trusted adult.

"And if not, we are available – teachers, staff, myself – and we will definitely make sure that everyone gets the help that they need to cope with this kind of trauma," Vidal said.

He said the school is also communicating with fearful parents, many of whom attended Monday morning's solidarity rally.

Chaya Rabins, whose daughters attend junior kindergarten and Grade 2 at the school, said she's still in shock after learning about the shooting.

"I feel angered that, you know, these girls learn about good and kindness and spreading that to the world, and they don't deserve to come up to school and see that their school has been attacked from hatred," she said in an interview.

Rabins said she wants police to label the incident "for what it is."

"Unless you can actually name it and say 'this is a hate crime,' then you can't really change (things)," she said.

Ontario Solicitor General Michael Kerzner was among the politicians who spoke at the rally. He said he is a third-generation Torontonian from a Jewish family, and that the city's Jewish community is not going anywhere.

"It's true, we are in a darker time," he said.

"It is true, we are subjected to unfortunate intimidation and acts of hate and antisemitism, which are completely unacceptable. And that's why we as a community must stand stronger now than ever, proud of our heritage proud of our culture."

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce called on everyone in the province and beyond to rally behind the Jewish community and stand up against hate.

"We stand together, we stand strong, because there is no bullet that can shatter our resolve as a country to stand up against this pernicious hate," he said.

"Our work will not end until every child in our province is able to go to school, and play in our streets without the fear of being attacked simply for being a Jew. The Canada we know and we love is a nation of people who come together for every faith and heritage."

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow said the students and teachers at the school deserve to be able to attend in safety.

"This is a place for a lot of joyous learning, with young children, and a place to deepen their understanding of the Jewish culture and faith, a place to learn math, science, history," she said. "I came here to tell you you are not alone. We came to say that it's important that we come together."

Vidal said he's thankful for the community's support and hopes incidents like this will serve as a reminder that the world needs more "acts of goodness and kindness."

Federal Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc told reporters Monday that the RCMP are "working collaboratively" with Toronto police on this investigation.

"I hope very much that the community in Toronto understands that they are bringing every law enforcement tool ... to hold those responsible for this hateful and violent crime to account," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2024.

Allison Jones and Sonja Puzic, The Canadian Press


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