JCCs receive second wave of bomb threats in a month
NEW YORK—A wave of bomb threats Wednesday morning caused 27 Jewish community centers in 17 states to quickly engage in security protocols to ensure the safety of their participants and facilities. Many quickly received the all-clear from local law enforcement, with whom they are working closely, and have resumed regular operations. This is the second time this month that multiple JCCs have received bomb threats in a single day.
Paul Goldenberg, the director of Secure Community Networks (SCN), said there were bomb threats called in to Jewish community centers, schools and other institutions in Miami; Edison, New Jersey; Cincinnati; Alabama, and on the West Coast. News reports also cited threats in Albany, New York; Nashville; suburban Boston and Detroit; West Hartford, Connecticut, and the Orlando area.
Whether the institutions, which include schools and community centers, evacuated depended on the practices of local law enforcement, Goldenberg said.
Here in Maitland, the JCC also received a bomb threat call and went under precautionary lockdown at the recommendation of federal and local law enforcement, rather than evacuation.
Keith Dvorchik, The Roth Family JCC CEO, sent an email to JCC members and school parents stating, “Our history has strengthened us with superior awareness and acknowledgement of life’s reality—that we must create a secure environment for our children, families and employees. We have taken enormous steps to make our campus safe with thoughtful and appropriate security protections and protocols; we know what to do.”
Law enforcement closed Maitland Avenue and Maitland Blvd. in the adjacent areas, and parents were told not to come pick up their children. This not only affected the campus, but area businesses. Dental Associates of Maitland is directly across Maitland Avenue from the JCC campus. Bernard Kahn, DDS, told the Heritage that patients on their way for appointments were diverted and all appointments were delayed for later in the day. Patients already there did not have to leave.
“It is a burden, but we did not have to evacuate,” Kahn stated.
The calls are similar to those received by JCCs last week when 16 centers in nine states received fake bomb threats, causing many evacuations and a disruption to normal operations. JCC Association of North America praised the JCC professionals who relied on established best practices and continue to collaborate with law enforcement agencies to ensure the safety and well-being of all who use and benefit from their facilities.
Members of the Orlando Jewish community may not be aware that the Maitland JCC is part of the Secure Community Network, a national network that is an affiliate of the Jewish Federations of North America that monitors, advises and supports the safety and security of Jewish institutions.
David Posner, director of strategic performance at JCC Association of North America, who helps to advise local JCCs on security policies and practices, issued the below statement:
“In the wake of last week’s calls, JCCs were well-prepared for the calls received today. Many JCC leaders took part in a webinar organized quickly by JCC Association, featuring officials from SCN and the Department of Homeland Security to address concerns and procedures. Lessons learned and best practices discussed were clearly on display this morning, and we applaud our JCCs for responding calmly and efficiently. Many JCCs not affected last week took the opportunity to review their own security plans, and speak with local law enforcement.
Goldenberg said his organization was consulting with federal authorities, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. He said there was no information as to the perpetrator, but noted an increase in social media threats, particularly from the far right.
“The neo-Nazi or white supremacist hate groups seem to be becoming much more vocal,” he said. “Their threats are much more specific, in some cases... leaving very specific threats against Jewish communities—bombing threats, harassment.”
Operations at the Gordon JCC in Nashville returned to normal approximately an hour after a receptionist received a call stating that there was a bomb in the building, said Mark Freedman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee. The threat was delivered in a woman’s voice, but it was unclear whether the call was live or recorded, he told JTA.
Freedman said the community, which was targeted in last week’s series of threats, would not be intimidated by the incidents, which he termed “telephone terrorism.”
“These people, whoever they are, that are making these threats are trying to intimidate, create anxiety and fear, and we are going to do what we have to do to ensure the safety and security of our valued members and constituents, but we are not going to give in to what they are trying to create, which is to drive us away from our valued institutions,” he said.
“Clearly it’s a pattern of intimidation, and it’s likely to continue in the current atmosphere that we have in this country, where hate groups feel that they can come after good-standing members of the community.”
The bomb threats Wednesday are the latest incident in a recent wave of increased anti-Semitism in the U.S. The Anti-Defamation League documented rising anti-Semitic abuse on Twitter last year, as well as a spike in hate crimes following the presidential election.
Elise Jarvis, associate director for communal security at the ADL, said she anticipates more incidents like this in the future.
“These things often come in cycles,” she told JTA on Wednesday. “All these things, when you bring them together, it paints an intense picture.”
Goldenberg also described an intensity of threats.
“We have seen in the last several weeks an uptick in activities and threats to Jewish institutions across the United States,” he said. “There has been a tremendous amount of rhetoric out there.”
Jarvis said institutions need more training in how to deal with bomb threats, including which questions to ask the caller—where the bomb is, for example—and how to handle other threats like suspicious mail. If staff are aware of security procedures, she said, being prepared doesn’t have to be costly.
“We need to be providing a lot more training, specifically on how to respond to bomb threats,” Jarvis said. “The longer you can keep someone on the phone, the better.”
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Christine DeSouza contributed to this article.