Written by: Vicky Sirkovich, 10th Grade, Chaverot BBG #2307.

My parents have told me about the antisemitism they faced growing up in the USSR, having been verbally abused as well as physically hurt simply for being Jewish. I’ve also witnessed a lot of antisemitism on social media and I’ve heard stories from others, however, I had never experienced antisemitism first-hand. That was until the afternoon of September 18th, the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.

I was taking a walk near Bathurst Street and Steeles Avenue in Thornhill – an area home to a significant number of Jewish people – when I saw a man walking toward me on the sidewalk. At first I didn’t pay attention to him, until I heard what he was yelling. “If you’re Jewish get off the [expletive] sidewalk,” he said. I had never before been made to feel afraid because of my Jewish identity, but at that moment, I was petrified. I suddenly felt lost, disappointed and all I could think about was getting home safely.

Why should I be made to feel so vulnerable and insecure simply because someone else is so full of hate? I believe that no one should feel uncomfortable in their own skin or be ashamed of their beliefs, which is why I’m bringing awareness to this topic.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only recent incident of antisemitism in the area. According to Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, there were swastikas and the words “All Heil Hitler” found written on a wall at Dublin Heights Elementary and Middle School in May and there was antisemitic graffiti discovered at Ledbury Park Elementary and Middle School in April. These are just two of more than 2,000 antisemitic incidents that occur in Canada each year, according to the 2019 Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, produced by B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights.

Words don’t begin to describe how awful it feels to know such hatred exists. However, I’m exceptionally fortunate to be growing up in one of the most diverse countries in the world, and though I will never understand why some people go out of their way to be so cruel, I believe it’s important to become informed, raise awareness, and stand up against antisemitism.

If you experience an antisemitic incident, you can report it to Toronto Police or York Regional Police as well as organizations like B’nai Brith Canada and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center.

As a member of BBYO, a pluralistic Jewish teen movement with chapters in more than 50 countries around the world, I’ve been able to develop my own personal Jewish identity and create lifelong friendships with a great group of like-minded teens.

When this antisemitic incident happened to me, I turned to BBYO for guidance. The girls in my chapter, Chaverot BBG #2307, supported me, and our chapter advisor connected me with resources so that I could report what had happened. I am extremely grateful that I have so many friends that I can count on when I need them most.

Photo from Google Maps.