Around noon on Monday (Jan 9), at least 16 Jewish Community Centers across the country received bomb threats in what appears to be a coordinated plan. While no bombs were found by law-enforcement officials, Jewish organizations across the country instituted emergency protocols. The FBI is currently investigating the incidents.
Jewish Community Centers across the country received simultaneous bomb threats.
Barry Abels, the executive director of the Jewish Community Center in Columbia, S.C., said they received a call around 11:30 AM Monday from an elderly-sounding woman who “in a loud screaming voice kept saying there’s a bomb.” That center was immediately evacuated, law enforcement officials arrived to search the buildings, and members of the community were notified. Similar incidents occurred at 15 other centers in Florida, Maryland, Delaware, Georgia, New York, and New Jersey, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
In a press release issued by the parent organization, the JCC Association of America, the director of strategic performance (i.e. security) David Posner praised the swift responses from employees and local law enforcement for ensuring the safety of everyone in each of the 16 centers. No one was injured in any of the evacuations and all the threats turned out to be hoaxes.
About 4 hours after receiving the threats, all the centers were back open. “Children are at their early childhood programs, adults are attending parenting and senior programs, fitness club members are working out, and the millions of people who pass through the doors of [Jewish Community Centers] across the country are continuing to do so as they do every day,” said Posner.
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are investigating the matter, and consulting with the Jewish Community Centers and other organizations on security measures.
Synagogues, Day Schools, and other organizations have all been beefing up security since last year.
These “threats were part of a disturbing trend toward normalizing hate speech,” wrote the New York Times. They quoted Jerry Silverman, the president and chief executive of the Jewish Federations of North America, as saying these latest threats were part of a growing “coordinated effort” to intimidate Jews over the last year.
Michael Feinstein, the chief executive of the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, in Rockville, MD also spoke to the Tines:
My personal take is it’s a statement of where we are in this country. There’s some thought amongst some people that hate speech and hate crimes are O.K. and anti-Semitism is O.K., and I think that is reflective of sort of the political discourse that we’ve had in this country.
Paul Gomdenberg, the director of Secure Community Network, told the Jewish Times of America that the calls were a mix of robocalls and live people. “We’re in a completely different world now than we were a couple of years ago,” he noted. “What is unprecedented is in the shortest period of time we received a substantial number of bomb threats. These offenders are leveraging technology to intimidate and/or terrorize communities.”
The view from the ground
A congregant and parent of children in a Jewish Day School in one of the cities that received a bomb threat spoke to us, on the condition of anonymity, for fear of retribution from hate groups. “It’s very hard not to link this to Trump’s campaign,” he told us. “Just look at how he normalizes the rhetoric of hate and bigotry. Look at all the hate crimes that were committed after the election,” he said, referring to the 700-plus hate-related incidents reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center in the week following the election.
He reports that both his synagogue and his kids’ school started ratcheting up security over the last two years, with a major acceleration in the last six months. Last week, the school announced its decision to hire armed guards. “It’s perverse,” he said, “that in a country grounded in religious freedom, the threat and fear levels are so high that we have to para militarize our house of worship. And I hate the message to my kids that they have to be protected daily by armed guards because of their faith.”
We are awaiting updates from a senior administrator at a day school in one of the affected communities, and a regular user of one of the Jewish Community Centers that received a threat. We’ll update this section as they come in.