Toronto police are investigating an alleged hate crime after a sign promoting Holocaust education was vandalized outside a synagogue in the Bathurst Manor area over the weekend.

The United Jewish Appeal said its sign, which features well-known Holocaust survivor and educator Max Eisen, was vandalized outside Beth Jacob Synagogue at Overbrook Place and Wilmington Avenue sometime Friday night.

An image of the vandalized sign shared by UJA showed the German word ‘Achtung,’ which means ‘attention,’ ‘warning’ or ‘watch out,’ scrawled over a picture of Eisen promoting Holocaust education.

In a statement, UJA Federation and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs called the incident a “disturbing” and “appalling” act of “hateful vandalism.”

Speaking with CP24 outside the synagogue Sunday, CIJA Vice President Noah Shack said the incident has shocked the local Jewish community.

“This incident has happened right in the centre of the Jewish community, so it really has sent shockwaves through,” Shack said.

He said the fact that a picture of a prominent Holocaust survivor was targeted is especially disturbing.

Eisen, who has spoken to hundreds of school children across Canada about his experiences, is a survivor of the notorious Auschwitz death camp. His story was chronicled in an autobiography, “By Chance Alone,” that was shortlisted for the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize.

“Given that that’s the sign that they chose to deface, it doubles down on why it’s so shocking for us,” Shack said.  

Toronto police confirmed Sunday night that they are now investigating the incident as a hate crime.

“There’s been a significant amount of investigation,” Sgt. Jeff Gough told CP24. “We see no good reason why a United Jewish Appeal sign would be defaced. It’s safe to say that this offence is covered under what we perceive as hate crime.”

Police said they have good surveillance camera images from the area and urged the perpetrators to turn themselves in.  

“My understanding is that once they (police) have all the evidence gathered, we’ll be looking to them to make a determination of what the motivation was in this crime,” Shack said. “I know that crimes such as mischief and vandalism when targeting a place of worship or a communal institution do constitute a specific hate crime under the criminal code and we’ll be looking to see that that is taken very seriously.”

In a statement released Sunday, Mayor John Tory called the incident "absolutely unacceptable." 

"This type of hatred has no place in Toronto. I stand with our city’s Jewish community in condemning this cowardly act. We know that across the GTA and Canada, the Jewish community is the most frequently targeted minority. That’s why it is so important for all of us to condemn this hatred when we see it in our communities," Tory said. 

"Toronto Police are investigating this incident and I urge anyone with information to help solve this crime."

According to CIJA, hate crimes targeting Jewish Torontonians increased 23 per cent between 2016 and 2017. The organization noted that while Jews make up just 3.8 per cent of the city’s population, hate crimes targeting Jews account for 28 per cent of all hate crimes in the city.

Shack said that while the incident is disturbing the community is “resilient.” He said the incident offers an opportunity to recognize the problem and to come together to deal with it.

“I think the message that people are taking from this is that if somebody is going to target a poster promoting Holocaust education, well we should just reinforce that product, we should reinforce the value of educating people about intolerance and hate,” Shack said. “Not just so incidents like this won’t happen anymore, but because it’s something that’s of value to everyone in this great city.”