Toronto Jewish Community on Alert After Threats By Hooded Men Taking Photos of Synagogue

TORONTO — The greater Toronto Jewish community is disquieted and on the alert after three hooded men took photos and yelled threats outside a Thornhill synagogue.

York Regional Police received a call from Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto (BAYT) on Friday, according to Const. Laura Nicolle. That afternoon, alerts went out via email and social media from synagogues across the GTA.

“This past Wednesday night, three men with concealed faces were observed taking photos of BAYT,’’ read one alert posted to Facebook and viewed by more than 20,000 people. ‘‘When they were approached, they yelled “F— Jews. Watch!”, jumped into their black Volkswagen Golf and drove off.

The car’s licence plates were covered. Unfortunately, they were out of range of the BAYT cameras. Please be alert when walking, especially near our shul, and be on the look-out for such vehicles and/or people.”

Janice Savage, a BAYT member for three years, said the synagogue has increased its security.

‘‘It’s incumbent on all shul members to be vigilant — as the world we live in becomes more dangerous, the shul is responding to our new reality.”

Police cars were seen parked on Clark Avenue outside the synagogue all Saturday, as well as patrolling nearby York Hill Boulevard.

“I’m feeling very vulnerable. It was very reassuring on the Sabbath however to see the whole security task force of the BAYT in full swing. Members of the trained security team were at the door checking visitors — as well as a professional security guard,” said one BAYT neighbour who preferred to remain anonymous.

York region police said a BAYT security guard observed a car parked by a stop sign on York Hill Blvd., with two men nearby, at around 8 p.m. Wednesday. The guard believed they were possibly taking pictures of the security cameras.

“As security approached the men they got into the vehicle (and) fled the area,” said York Constable Andy Pattenden. ‘‘As they were driving away the guard believed he heard an offensive remark.”

Const. Pattenden confirmed they yelled “F— Jews,” but had nothing on record about the threat referred to in the email alerts.

The men wore hoodies that shielded their faces, and the licence plate covered with tinted plastic, rendering the guard unable to get the number.

“We have complete confidence in YRP and we are grateful for its detailed attention to our security in a calm, strategic fashion, in partnership with community security experts,” BAYT executive director Mordechai Bookbinder said in a statement.

York police are asking anyone with information to contact them.

“We have been deeply engaged in the response to the BAYT incident,’’ said Sara Lefton, vice-president for the Greater Toronto Area for The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). ‘‘We have liaised with local police, and we are extremely gratified by the fact that both YRP and Toronto Police Services have been exceptional in their response, not only in investigating the BAYT incident but also in providing much greater police visibility at Jewish sites across the GTA.”

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