Jewish Heritage Month Celebrated at Police Headquarters

By Ron Fanfair

Ron Fanfair


Office of the Chief

For the first time, Jewish Heritage Month was celebrated at Toronto Police Service (TPS) headquarters.

Established in 2018, the month of May provides an opportunity to remember, celebrate and educate future generations about the inspirational role that Jewish Canadians have played and continue to play in communities across the country.

TPS Chief Myron Demkiw joined provincial and municipal officials at the event and the launch of an exhibit.

“With a focus on today’s presentation and the remarkable exhibit before us, the Holocaust is a painful reminder of the destructive power of hate and what can happen when it goes unchecked,” he said. “Here at the Toronto Police Service, we take hate crimes seriously. Last year, we expanded our Hate Crime Unit to increase our capacity to investigate these offences and support successful prosecutions.”

Demkiw acknowledged that the Jewish community remains one of the greatest targets of hate in the city.

“As a result, we work closely with our local Jewish community to promote community safety and hold those who choose to demonstrate anti-Semitic behaviour accountable,” he added. “Finding new ways to engage with our communities is essential, particularly as the under-reporting of hate crimes continues. 

“Many victims of these crimes fear retaliation or feel uncertainty about the support they will receive from the justice system. To encourage reporting and to foster an atmosphere of trust, we continue to work alongside our community and religious leaders to break down barriers, providing awareness and education in our communities. As we mark Jewish Heritage Month, I am reminded that we can’t take our freedom and rights for granted. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to stand up to hate in all its vile forms.”

Presented by TPS in partnership with Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, the Legacy Portrait Project Exhibit is founded on the idea of commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day by photographing survivors and their grandchildren.

“Behind each of these poignant and beautiful pieces, there is a complex story to tell – one that incorporates a challenging past, detailing a survivor’s bravery and perseverance in overcoming the immense tragedy of experiencing the Holocaust,” said Toronto Police Services Board Vice-Chair Frances Nunziata.  “These photographs also celebrate the powerful relationships of the present, the tremendous beauty found in the great love between Holocaust survivors and their grandchildren, the pure vitality of youth prevailing after all the darkness the survivors have endured through their lives.

“These moving portraits look forward to a promising and happy future, of future generations of life flourishing. They celebrate the meaningful lives that these survivors have built after the Holocaust – the love they have found, the special families they have created, and the hope that we all sustain – that never again, will we allow such evil to occur.”

Chief Myron Demkiw and Holocaust survivor Andy Reti chat in front of Reti's portrait being featured at headquarters
Chief Myron Demkiw and Holocaust survivor Andy Reti chat in front of Reti's portrait being featured at headquarters Photo: Brent Smyth

Nunziata said it is her hope that Service and community members take the opportunity to view the exhibit on display at the TPS lobby until the end of the week.

“Unfortunately, we know that anti-Semitism, faith-based violence and incidences of hate continue in our community,” the long serving City Councillor added. “It is critical that we remain on guard, together, with the Jewish community, and that we develop a comprehensive strategy to counter hate in all its forms so that we may protect the members of all our communities.”

Ontario’s Solicitor General Michael Kerzner said any act of anti-Semitism must be condemned.

“We must call it out and that is exactly what we do,” he said. “I want to give a special shout out to the members of Toronto Police who understand the sensitives that many in our communities have. You have been very helpful when we have seen acts of anti-Semitism. You are there to investigate and you are there to send a message that it won’t be tolerated in our communities. As Ontario’s Solicitor General, there is absolutely nothing more important to me than the safety of our communities.”

City Councillor James Pasternak said sharing one’s heritage is vital.

“As we attend these events and talk about each other, we affirm the truism that understanding and education will always win over ignorance and intolerance,” he noted. “We must move away from stereotypes and misunderstandings and learn what we can about each other.”

Andy Reti was only two years old in 1944 when his mother and grandmother were forced out of their home in Hungary into a Jewish ghetto.

Liberated in 1945, he and his family came to Canada.

“Every Holocaust survivor story is a love story, love of life, love of family and love of freedom,” he said. “I am truly a survivor because of my mother and grandmother who showed incredible courage.” 

Inspector Paul Rinkoff and Michael Levitt co-chair the Jewish Community Consultative Committee.

While serving as Member of Parliament in York Centre five years ago, Levitt played a key role in the creation of Jewish Heritage Month. 

He and former Senator Linda Frum spearheaded the passage of Bill-S232 that led to the month being officially adopted in Canada and marked every May.

“Building on Ontario’s Jewish Heritage Month first adopted in 2012, we viewed a national month-long tribute as an opportunity for all Canadians to learn about, reflect and celebrate the incredible contributions that Jewish Canadians have made and continue to make to our country in so many ways,” said Levitt who is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. 

“As Canada marks Jewish Heritage Month, the country’s Jewish community has reason to feel at once grateful and uneasy. To be sure, democratic Canada with its multiculturalism and embracing of minorities, is arguably one of the best countries in which to live as a Jew.”

There are approximately 400,000 Jews in Canada, representing the world’s third largest diaspora community after the United States and France.

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