No one should feel unsafe when they go to their place of worship.
That’s the message Rabbi Mendel Zaltzman wants to send to members of the Jewish Russian Community Centre of Ontario (JRCC), an organization that serves Jews of the former Soviet Union.
To do so, JRCC is spending $31,749, which it received from the federal Communities at Risk: Security Infrastructure Program (SIP), on security upgrades at its Rockford Road location, near Bathurst Street and Steeles Avenue West in North York.
“The concept is we don’t want to wait until someone comes and shoots and kills,” said Zaltzman, JRCC’s CEO. “We want to make sure that things are put in place so that it won’t happen.”
The grant will be used to install security cameras, security film on the windows, an alarm system and a door intercom system.
Concerns among JRCC members stem from both local incidents, such as graffitied swastikas or broken synagogue windows, and international incidents, like the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting or the Poway synagogue shooting in California in April, Zaltzman said.
“It causes people to be very afraid,” he said. “People get home after service on Saturday and hear news that people were killed during prayer in a synagogue, the first thing they do is send email or call and ask, ‘What are we doing to make sure it doesn’t happen with us?’”
JRCC felt the Rockford location was due for an upgrade, he added. The security infrastructure was improved at its east Thornhill location a couple of years ago with SIP grant money, which has made members feel safer, he said.
After hate crimes occur, Zaltman said, “there’s frustration, anger and fear” in the community.
“But the most important is to make it a call to action,” he said. “Being afraid, being upset or being angry doesn’t do you anything, so the call to action is what are we going to do to protect ourselves?”
Down at city hall, deterring hate crimes at places of worship is on Councillor Mike Colle’s to-do list.
In May, a motion brought forward by the representative for Ward 8, Eglinton-Lawrence, was carried through city council. It asked the Toronto Police Services Board to consider establishing a task force to examine issues related to security, safety and public safety at places of worship.
Colle’s motion added the police statistical report to include the role a task force might play in creating a security plan for places of worship and possibilities for collaboration with provincial and federal law enforcement agencies.
“There’s a huge concern in my community about these threats, and we need to get our police services to put this more in focus and see if we can get some more help from the feds and province,” he said. “This type of threat has no boundaries because a lot of it is on the internet and you can’t handle it just as a local police force.”
The police services board adopted the motion at its July 31 meeting, requesting that the chief of police report back on the issue.
Zaltzman said having a task force would make the community feel safer.
“People should be comfortable to come,” he said. “The doors are open, so to speak, to welcome them and they should know they feel secure.”
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Cynthia David is a Toronto-based writer covering food and a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @cynthiadavid