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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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Kids, parents warned about suspicious man

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TORONTO — Several Toronto Jewish day schools issued warnings late last month about a potential danger to young teens from a man who they said may look like a member of the Orthodox community.

However, the man has since left for a treatment facility in the southwestern United States, according to a Dec. 22 e-mail that Rabbi Isser Pliner, dean of Eitz Chaim Schools, sent to parents.

 In an earlier e-mail, on Dec. 19, Rabbi Pliner alerted parents that “a man who was raised in the Toronto Torah community… has recently tried to lure teenagers from our neighborhoods and our schools into inappropriate relationships and situations.”

A follow-up e-mail the next day advised that the school had been asked by Toronto Police not to divulge the person’s name, but it included a description of a male in his late 20s, 5 foot 10, approximately 175 to 200 pounds, clean shaven with olive skin, brown eyes, and dark, wavy hair.

The individual has been seen “dressed in a frum manner,” according to the e-mail, which asked recipients to contact police if they see a person who matches the description “engaging in contact with children, or in proximity of a facility that deals with children.”

In a third and final e-mail on the subject, Rabbi Pliner wrote, “While the dangers posed by this person have now, at least temporarily, abated, there is no room for laxity on our part as parents and educators.”

He encouraged parents to contact the appropriate authorities if they have concerns about any person. “We must always remember it is our responsibility to ensure our children are as safe as we can reasonably make them, and that we have provided them with the tools and education they need to keep out of harm’s way,” he said.

In a phone interview, Rabbi Pliner said that the man “tried to make some overtures” to boys from another school in the neighbourhood south of Lawrence Avenue.

No one interviewed for this article would confirm whether the man is a convicted offender.

At Eitz Chaim, staff spoke to students in grades five to eight about awareness and self-protective behaviours, which were listed in one of Rabbi Pliner’s e-mails:

• “Your body belongs to you.”

• “How to say no.”

• “There are no secrets from your parents, especially when someone says, ‘Do not tell your parents.’”

In the Orthodox community, both police and “community activists” (askanim) were consulted about the situation, Rabbi Pliner said.

Paul Shaviv, director of education of the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, also sent an e-mail alert to parents.

He wrote that the man “is alleged to be a predator who is a danger to teenagers, especially boys. He is known to frequent synagogues. Please discreetly remind your children that they should never accept invitations or approaches from adults whom they do not know, and should immediately tell a responsible adult of any suspicious incidents.”

The man had been “seen in and around Thornhill, and we have many students in that area,” Shaviv told The CJN.

At Associated Hebrew Schools’ Danilack Middle School, principal Mordechai Cohen and vice-principal Elisabeth Segal met with students who take public transit to advise them about safety.

In an e-mail to parents, Cohen said the students were not advised of the catalyst for the meeting. However, they were “reminded to always be alert and aware, and not to be lured by strangers even when they may look like rabbis.”

Doron Horowitz, director of national security infrastructure for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), has been in touch with some of the Jewish schools about the situation. He emphasized that the man was not charged by police for any recent incidents. “From what I understand, he did not break any laws.”

Horowitz commended the schools for their response and added that children should understand what constitutes inappropriate behaviour and know that they have options when faced with it.

Det. Scott McKay of 32 Division said police were consulted, but are not investigating the situation.

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