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Swastikas painted at a park entrance in 2010 were only “distasteful”, not a symbol of hate

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The Truro News described swastikas defacing a park as “distasteful”, in reporting on a Jewish writer who filed a police complaint about it being a hate crime. (Photo: Truro News)

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In the summer of 2010, my then-wife and I moved to Debert, Nova Scotia, with our five-year-old daughter, Olivia.

A farming community and, until the 1990s, the site of a small military station, Debert was not even big enough to be considered a village. Like a step back in time, Debert was the kind of place where people left their doors unlocked, and everyone knew each other by name. Children of all ages would play outside unattended until dark with nobody batting an eye, and in the summer, they’d go down to the creek to swim or catch tadpoles. Barnhill’s Store on the corner still sold penny candy, and once a week, we’d give Olivia a dollar and let her pick out 100 of whatever sweets she wanted. For entertainment, you had your choice between walking to the Legion or the pizza restaurant, or you could drive 25 minutes down the highway to the Tim Hortons. For everything else, it was a 30-45 minute drive to the nearby town of Truro.

On Sundays mornings, Debert homes were empty as young and old filled the pews at one of the two local churches. I, of course, was not among them but didn’t complain when my wife decided to start attending with our daughter – “more for the community than any religion.” she said – and enrolled her in the church-run daycare and summer camps.

Olivia had just started kindergarten – or “Grade Primary”, as they call it in Nova Scotia – when I walked her to school one day and saw it. There was a little park across the street from the school – really just a grassy area with a couple of benches by the river. The wooden beams around the park and the benches and trash cans were vandalized with blue and white swastikas and antisemitic slogans. I did my best to conceal the hateful vandalism from Olivia, and after dropping her off, I made several phone calls: one to the Truro Police, one to my local MLA, and one to the Truro Daily News.

The police grudgingly took a statement, claimed they didn’t think it was a targeted attack or a hate crime (despite me being the only Jewish person in the entire community) and said they’d contact the city to arrange cleanup. My MLA’s office said she’d pass on my concern to the MLA, but I never got a call back or indication that the MLA for Colchester North was even told.

The Truro Daily News appeared the most sympathetic, or at least the most interested by the incident, and offered to send someone down that afternoon to talk to me. They sent a photographer down who asked me a series of questions about how the vandalism made me feel, if I thought it was aimed at me specifically, and – most interesting of all – why it offended me? I knew Debert was a step back in time, but I never suspected it was a step so far back that hateful slogans and painted swastikas were not seen as universal symbols of hatred.

I never imagined that Debert was so far removed from the mainstream that I’d have to explain why a swastika was offensive.

What followed was an article in the local paper that boiled down to “Local Jew Offended By Swastika”, with a few pictures of me. Pictures of me standing next to the swastikas, some sitting beside the swastikas, and some pictures of my face alone – apparently so the people of Debert could see what an “offended Jew” looks like? Within a couple of days, the vandalism was painted over and cleaned up, and I received a call from a public works employee who asked if I was satisfied with the job. I almost expected him to declare exasperatingly, “Happy now, Jew?”

In the years since the incident in Debert, I typically look back on it as an example of how, in fact, many Canadian communities big and small see Jews and our tendency to be “offended” by antisemitism, discrimination, and acts of hatred; both then and unfortunately still now. 

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I’ve spoken about this incident to the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), to their predecessor, and B’nai Brith Canada, and all agreed that had I reached out to any of them at the time, far more would have been made and done about it.

I often wonder why I hadn’t reached out to them or why I hadn’t contacted a national media outlet like CBC, CTV, or Global News? Would CBC have made a bigger stink about a lone Jewish man in a tiny unincorporated community that may or may not have been the victim of a hate crime then? Would they now? If this incident had happened in 2020 instead of 2010, would the Truro Daily News have written an article about a “Local Jew Offended By Swastika”? Or would more have been made of what happened?

I wrote a story for TheJ.ca several weeks ago where I stated that antisemitism was the last socially acceptable form of racism left. In the age of “Me Too”, “Black Lives Matter”, and woke culture, Jewish Canadians still find themselves regular victims of discrimination and harassment. According to the most recent audit by B’nai Brith Canada, there were 2610 antisemitic incidents in Canada in 2020 – incidents happening somewhere each day on average. In Atlantic Canada – which includes Debert, Nova Scotia – antisemitism increased by over 200% between 2019 (61 incidents) and 2020 (199 incidents).

  • In February, graffiti was scrawled outside of Montreal’s Concordia University, stating “Hitler was right, Jews are a virus to humanity”.
  • In March, graffiti with the words “f— you” and “Zionists are not welcome” was written on a Toronto-area restaurant.
  • In May, a Montreal-area synagogue was vandalized and had ritual items desecrated, with Torah scrolls strewn about the floor and religious articles found in the toilet.
  • In July, city workers painting lines on a road in Vaughan, Ont., also painted antisemitic graffiti.
  • In November, a swastika and the phrase “Heil Hitler” were drawn on a kindergarten in Toronto.

In an era where people get cancelled for being even remotely racist, why is antisemitism not going down?

The answer, in my opinion, is long, detailed and I will write about it at a later date. But suffice it to say that we have not come far from “Local Jew Offended By Swastika.”

Moshe Appel has been involved in Jewish activism for most of his life, and regularly calls out antisemitism from all levels of government. Originally from Montreal, Moshe currently resides in Victoria, British Columbia and works in the healthcare field.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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