Synagogue Vandalism Likely Not Antisemitic, Groups Say

What was first described as a desecration of a Montreal-area synagogue was likely not motivated by anti-Semitism, Jewish groups now say.

Just before the Shavuot holiday, B’nai Brith Canada decried the discovery of prayers shawls and torn Torah scrolls strewn on the floor of Sepharade Kol Yehouda, a small Sephardi synagogue in Cote Saint-Luc,Que., as one of the worst shul desecrations in memory. The vandalism generated headlines worldwide.

B’nai Brith said religious items had been “stuffed into toilets,” and it called the act “one of the worst such incidents to take place in Canada in years.”

Sepharade Kol Yehouda synagogue, Cote Saint-Luc, Quebec. Photo credit: B’nai Brith

David Birnbaum, the Liberal MNA for the D’Arcy-McGee riding that includes CoteSaint-Luc, called the incident “a disgusting, cowardly and hurtful act of vandalism. Iexpect that police will make every effort to catch the hateful jerk who perpetrated this act.”

After consulting with police, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs issued a statement on June 5 saying that “preliminary reports”indicate the synagogue “was not specifically targeted as a Jewish institution.”

CIJA noted that the congregation, located in a private home, is not visibly identified from the exterior as a synagogue and is a few doors away from one of Cote Saint-Luc’s largest synagogues.

“While it is painful and unacceptable to experience any sort of vandalism to a synagogue and to sacred objects, this criminal act appears to be case of breaking and entering. We have every confidence that [police] are doing their utmost to find those behind this incident,” said Federation CJA CEO Yair Szlak.

“To date, there are no indications or telltale signs of a crime motivated by anti-Semitism,” Szlak said.

Damage was reportedly limited to the kitchen, with none in the synagogue’s sanctuary. Initial reports said the synagogue had been ransacked.

Sepharade Kol Yehouda synagogue, Cote Saint-Luc, Quebec. Photo credit: B’nai Brith

Graffiti scrawled on the walls in the congregation were found to be meaningless.

“Damage inside a place of worship and to ritual items always tugs at our heartstrings, but we must be guided by the facts. To date there are no indications or tell-tale signs of a crime or act of vandalism motivated by antisemitism. We will continue to work with [police] and our partners at Federation CJA to ensure that the truth comes to light,” added Eta Yudin, Quebec CIJA vice-president.

“Our little synagogue is very dear to our congregation and we were heartbroken to discover this damage,” said Daniel Amar of the Kol Yehouda synagogue.

“Thanks to the investigation of [police] and the support of Federation CJA, we now understand that the incident was likely a case of opportunistic breaking and entering.”

It is still not known when the break-in occurred since the synagogue has been closed for months due to COVID.

– CJR Staff