December 9, 2019

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Interfaith prayer vigil planned in aftermath of anti-Semitic attack at café

Details are scarce, but concern widespread, in the aftermath of an anti-Semitic attack on a River Heights café last week — perpetrated on the eve of the traditional Jewish celebration of Passover — that sent an employee to the hospital and left the business covered in bigoted graffiti.

As police investigators work to piece together what happened during — and who is responsible for — the attack at BerMax Caffé + Bistro last Thursday, Winnipeggers of various faiths are planning a prayer vigil for the one-week anniversary of the incident.

"Throughout the course of history whenever things go wrong, the Jews are blamed. But while it may start with us, it never ends with us. We have to realize this is something that’s important for everyone," said Belle Jarniewski, executive director of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada.

The latest incident marks the fourth time in five months the eatery has been targeted with anti-Semitic graffiti. This time, however, an employee was also attacked, leading some community members to call it one of the worst local acts of anti-Semitism in recent history.

Alongside Rev. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd of Westworth United Church, Jarniewski is organizing an interfaith prayer vigil in support of Winnipeg’s Jewish community Thursday at the church, located at 1750 Grosvenor Ave.

Winnipeg Police at BerMax Caffé and Bistro Friday afternoon. A woman was assaulted and the restaurant was the target of hate-related vandalism and a robbery Thursday night.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Police at BerMax Caffé and Bistro Friday afternoon. A woman was assaulted and the restaurant was the target of hate-related vandalism and a robbery Thursday night.

While details on the attack are so far scant, the Winnipeg Police Service has confirmed it’s investigating the incident as a "hate-related crime."

On Monday, police spokesman Const. Rob Carver said the victim was treated in hospital and released. However, he declined to provide additional information — including whether the café has security cameras or if suspects have been identified.

Jarniewski said the string of attacks on BerMax can’t be de-contextualized from the "global resurgence of anti-Semitism" in recent years.

"I’m so very disappointed that someone would act in this way to hurt a family, to hurt a business, to hurt an individual and really to hurt an entire community who is reeling in response to this attack," she said.

"We live in very difficult times at the moment. Worldwide we’ve seen a resurgence of anti-Semitism. It’s a deep concern. I think it’s something we need to address. We need to find a way to respond to these kinds of acts."

During Thursday’s vigil, prayers and remarks will be offered in support of Winnipeg’s Jewish community from representatives of different faith traditions.

Belle Jarniewski: 'We live in very difficult times at the moment'

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Belle Jarniewski: 'We live in very difficult times at the moment'

At the same time as the vigil is being organized, Be’TLV — a registered non-profit that organizes inclusive events for the local Jewish LGBT community — has started a relief fund for BerMax.

The group is looking to raise a $10,000 to help cover damages to the restaurant, as well as potential profit losses while it remains closed. So far, between a Facebook fundraiser and a GoFundMe page, about $1,700 has been collected so far.

Jarniewski said that while emotions are raw for many in the wake of the attack, she’s felt heartened to know Winnipeggers are rallying around the local Jewish community.

"I’ve been very moved by the initiatives. I think often when tragedies take place within our own individual communities, we deal with them on our own," she said.

"It’s very reassuring having other communities show their solidarity and express their opposition to this hateful anti-Semitism, this racism that exists. They’re not being bystanders, they’re taking action."

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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