A Note from Michael Levitt
Enduring Lessons from the Christie Pits Riot
This week, Torontonians marked the 90th anniversary of the Christie Pits Riot, remembering and reflecting on the infamous antisemitic event that took place on the evening of August 16, 1933 in the city’s large mid-town recreational park. Fueled by rising Jew-hatred – still sadly prevalent today in Canada and elsewhere - the Christie Pits Riot was a significant moment in Canadian history, as one of the country’s largest-ever ethnically and religiously motivated riots.
Taking place just months after Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party took power in Germany, the riot occurred amid rising antisemitic and anti-immigrant sentiment and support for the Nazis in many countries including Canada. This was evident on August 16 at a baseball game at Christie Pits, where one of the teams was predominantly Jewish. When Nazi sympathizers unfurled a large swastika banner - as they had done two days earlier at a previous game involving the Jewish team - and yelled “Heil Hitler,” it sparked an all-out donnybrook. Some 10,000 people were involved in the rampage, with Italian residents and other communities coming to the defence of the Jewish players and residents.
The Christie Pits Riot left an indelible stain on the history of Toronto and Canada, highlighting the division and bigotry that existed - and still exist today. The riot’s anniversary serves as a stark reminder that even cities as diverse and inclusive as Toronto are not immune to overt displays of hate, and that we cannot waver in our commitment to confront intolerance. At the same time, we must also remember the displays of allyship that many non-Jews demonstrated that day, as communities refused to stand idle in the face of antisemitism.
On Wednesday evening, I was proud to represent FSWC at Christie Pits for the Rally Against Racism event to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the 1933 riot. Members of the Jewish and other communities and officials from all levels of government attended in a show of solidarity against all forms of racism and hate. It was great to see so many allies come out to remember this historic dark day and take time to reflect on and honour the lessons learned, vowing to stand up against future manifestations of hate and promote unity.
Community Update. Participants in FSWC's Campus Advocacy Fellowship program return from Israel
Canadian students on FSWC’s inaugural Campus Advocacy Fellowship trip to Israel just returned home after taking part in the jam-packed, educational tour. Emily Bonnell, Advocacy Lead at FSWC, who helped staff the trip, explains below why it proved such an enriching experience.
Reflections on ‘Discovering’ Israel Up Close
By Emily Bonnell
Just back from Tel Aviv, I’m still reeling from the impact of my first direct exposure to Israel. It came in the form of an intense, eye-opening and immersive eight-day visit to the Jewish state as part of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) Campus Advocacy Fellowship. I had the privilege of accompanying a group of Canadian university students on an educational tour that provided invaluable insight into life in Israel.
The trip is a key component of a year-long Fellowship program in which participants gain relevant knowledge and skills to combat antisemitism and champion human rights on their campuses and beyond. FSWC launched this initiative in response to the growing misinformation about Jews and Israel on campuses.
The esteemed Fellows, hailing from diverse backgrounds and predominantly non-Jewish, have a keen interest in Middle Eastern affairs, Jewish history and culture, and Israel. Fellows were selected for their leadership qualities and desire to strengthen their abilities in advocacy and allyship-building.
As a gentile ally of the Jewish community serving as the Advocacy Lead at FSWC, the opportunity to visit Israel, savour its appeal, and explore its complexities was a dream come true.
York Region police investigating hateful vandalism in Aurora, Ont.
This week, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center was notified of hateful vandalism at a park in Aurora, Ontario, including antisemitic graffiti. York Regional Police and its Hate Crime Unit are investigating the incident, stating in a news release that graffiti including "profanities, offensive drawings and hateful language" was found on vehicles, park benches and signs. Witnesses and anyone with information or video surveillance footage is being asked to contact the York Regional Police #1 District Criminal Investigation Bureau at 1-866-876-5423, ext. 7141, Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or leave an anonymous tip online at www.1800222tips.com.
We denounce this awful act of hatred that is an affront to Holocaust victims and survivors, veterans and all who stand in support of human rights and a thriving democracy.
Education Update. Freedom Day is one month away
Freedom Day plans are well underway for the annual FSWC event taking place this year on September 20. Hundreds of local students from the Greater Toronto Area are already registered for the in-person program being held at Mel Lastman Square in North York, with hundreds more from across Canada already registered to join virtually. We anticipate thousands of students being involved in this hybrid program that will feature social media influencer Notorious Cree, two-time Juno Award winner Kairo McLean, Holocaust survivor Hedy Bohm and 2023 Speaker’s Idol finalist Sonya Kovtun. The program will be MC’ed by TV personality Rick Campanelli. Focusing on Simon Wiesenthal’s quote, “Freedom is not a gift from heaven. You have to fight for it every day of your life,” teachers and students will kick off the school year with an impactful conversation about human rights that will shape their school year ahead.
Plans are starting to take shape for a special Holocaust education conference on January 28, 2024. In recognition of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the FSWC education team is preparing a line-up of expert speakers on Holocaust education that will support elementary and secondary school teachers in creating impactful lessons on the Holocaust and antisemitism in their classrooms.
Simon Wiesenthal Around the World
2023 FSWC Sponsors
Fred and Linda Waks and Family