Many in the majority-Jewish Canadian town of Hampstead worried about the potential for unrest tied to the Israel-Hamas war, but residents of the small Quebec community have been startled by the scale of the outbreak of anti-Semitic incidents in recent weeks.
Lorne W., who preferred not to give his last name, told AFP he is “very, very, very much” concerned about the sudden uptick in hate directed at the province’s Jewish community, which is one of the oldest and most populous in Canada.
“Myself and my neighbors, we’re very cautious and we’re very hyperaware of what’s going on in the streets. It makes us nervous,” he said.
The Middle East is nearly 9,000 kilometers (5,600 miles) away from Hampstead, a Montreal suburb, but the war raging in Gaza has been ever-present on minds here since Hamas’s shock October 7 attack and Israel’s furious response.
And the dismay has been even harder to escape since a surge of anti-Semitic attacks that last week saw two Jewish schools in Montreal’s Cote-des-Neiges neighborhood targeted at night by gunfire — twice in one case — and a synagogue firebombed a few days earlier in the suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeaux.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday called such assaults “absolutely unacceptable.”
“The terrifying acts of anti-Semitic violence in Montreal need to stop. No parent should ever have to tell their child that their school was shot at. No rabbi should have to explain to their congregation that their synagogue was attacked,” he said.
For Diana Singal, a Hampstead resident out walking her dog, “it is scary. I might think of avoiding some Jewish institutions, because there might be some people that will just lash out.”
She said members of her family had perished in Nazi death camps during World War II. “I thought we lived in a different world today.”
The tumult has come as Israel vows to destroy Hamas in response to its attacks last month, which Israel has said killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians.
Gaza’s Hamas-run territory’s health ministry says Israel’s ensuing aerial bombardment and ground offensive have killed 11,500 people, mostly civilians and including thousands of children.
The streets of Hampstead, an upscale English-speaking municipality of 8,000 — 75 percent of whom identified as Jewish in the last census, which was in 2021 — are plastered with posters of the 240 hostages kidnapped by Hamas.
The town hall is flying the Israeli flag at half-mast.
“We had requests from various organizations and residents in general, to put up posters of the Israeli hostages. And we definitely wanted to comply with these requests,” Hampstead mayor Jeremy Levi told AFP.
Tuesday evening, Hampstead also voted to introduce a fine of 1,000 Canadian dollars for anyone tearing down posters, particularly those of Hamas hostages. The fine is doubled for repeat offenses.
Many locals have found comfort in gathering together, and the town’s three synagogues have overflowed on recent Saturdays.
“It is surprising” to see such aggressive acts in Canada, local rabbi Moishe New said. “We didn’t expect it.”
Montreal police counted more anti-Semitic acts in the past month than in all of 2022. The same trend has been observed elsewhere in the world, including in several European countries.
“We haven’t seen this level of anti-Semitism in Montreal, ever,” said Levi.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said, “And, there’s nothing being done about it.”
“The time for words is over. We need to see action before things get out of control,” he added, decrying weak statements against anti-Semitism by politicians and a stepped-up police presence that Levi said has fallen short of expectations.
“There is a conflict in the Middle East,” commented Yair Szlak, head of the Federation CJA, one of Canada’s oldest Jewish organizations.
“We’re all mourning. We’re all hurt by it. We’re all suffering from it. But it doesn’t belong in the streets of Montreal.”