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Anti-Semitism happens in Canada too, and is on the rise, say advocates

FILE - In this Feb. 27, 2017, file photo, Rabbi Joshua Bolton of the University of Pennsylvania's Hillel center surveys damaged headstones at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia. The shooting rampage that killed more than 10 people at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, is being decried as the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history. Yet the carnage, however unprecedented, is not an aberration: Year after year, decade after decade, anti-Semitism proves to be among the most entrenched and pervasive forms of hatred and bigotry in the United States. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma, File)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The horrific mass murder at a Pittsburgh synagogue over the weekend is putting anti-Semitism in the spotlight, not just south of the border, but here in Canada.

The Jewish human rights advocate B’nai Brith Canada tracks cases of anti-Semitism and they say it’s definitely on the rise, with 2016 and 2017 being record-breaking years. Most of the cases involve harassment and most of it occurs online.

In 2017, the advocacy group says there were 1,752 recorded incidents of anti-Semitism in Canada, which included vandalism and violence.

It’s something Vancouver-based Rabbi Philip Bregman has dealt with it his whole career. He says some may feel emboldened by the current political rhetoric in the United States.

“I was the rabbi at Temple Shalom in 1985 when our synagogue on West 10th was firebombed and destroyed with a Molotov cocktail,” Bregman tells NEWS 1130. “Numerous incidents with hate mail and death threats, and swastikas and so on, since I came out here in 1980… places that are supposed to be a bastions of dialogue and sense of tolerance and yet that doesn’t seem to be the case even on the campuses.”

While anti-Semitism is a pervasive problem, Bregman says a lot can be accomplished by interacting with people who are different from you, and learning how similar we all are at the end of the day.

“My own synagogue helped Vietnamese boat people and people from the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and helping to settle Kurds,” Bregman says. “We know what it’s like to be ‘the other’ and to be on the outside, so we feel a real sense of responsibility to be there to help individuals come into this country.”

Earlier this year, the Toronto-based Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies commissioned a study which found that one in six Canadians express views that could be considered anti-Semitic. Avi Benlolo, the centre’s president and CEO, says the Jewish community is the most targeted ethnic community in Canada.

“When you take the statistical element into account, I think there is very much an active threat against our community,” Benlolo says.

“We’re seeing a rising tide of nationalism, that actually started in Europe a number of years ago. Many violent acts in France against Jewish communities, including the Kosher market [in Paris in November 2015]. We’re seeing a resurgence of the White supremacist movement. We saw that in Charlottesville, where protesters were marching down the street calling ‘Jews will not replace us.'”

He believes that advocacy and education about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism can remedy that right-wing resurgence and general nationalism.

“If you study the Holocaust, where six million Jews were murdered because of violent anti-Semitism and racial policies by the Nazis, you understand that words can actually kill.”