Police at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park, Kansas (File).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The JCC Association, which oversees all Jewish Community Centers in North America, attempted to reassure its frightened members on Tuesday, a day after bomb threats were called in to at least 16 of its centers across the United States.
The calls, some prerecorded and some made live, affected centers in Florida, Tennessee, Maryland, South Carolina, Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Most of the centers were evacuated and swept by local law enforcement immediately after the threats came in, but all alerts were revealed to be false, which was communicated to the community via posts on the respective Facebook pages. According to the association, a majority of the locations also resumed regular operations only a few hours later.
The JCC Association released a statement on Tuesday applauding the staffs of their community centers for following protocol “calmly and professionally,” as well as expressing gratitude for police and security officials.
David Posner, director of strategic performance at the association, also aimed to reassure communities.
“Our first priority is safety,” he said. “[The] JCC Association’s role is to support all Jewish Community Centers and their members across the continent, as together we ensure that Jewish community centers remain inclusive, engaging community gathering places and safe spaces.”
Posner added that the organization has a partnership with the Secure Community Network, which focuses on security for Jewish institutions throughout North America, as well as an “ongoing relationship” with the Department of Homeland Security. Both are still currently working to determine the cause and origin of the threats.
Some members of the affected centers expressed their shock and relief on Facebook, and many praised the local staff for their handling of the emergencies.
“I was working in the lobby when the evacuation started,” Alison Siegle Lewin, who attends the Bender JCC of Greater Washington, wrote.
“My older son was in his preschool class and my younger son downstairs in babysitting.”
“I am proud of the fast, thorough and secure evacuation enacted by the JCC and preschool staffs. We found our community in a terrible situation today, but I feel good about the JCC’s response,” she added.
The Anti-Defamation League said it was “deeply concerned” about the reports in a statement released late Monday afternoon.
“Unfortunately, such threats are not new to the Jewish community,” ADL director Jonathan Greenblatt said. “While each of these threats must be taken seriously, and excellent preparation is key to a good response, bomb threats are most often not credible and are usually used as scare tactics in order to disrupt an institution’s operations, and to cause fear and panic.”
There has been an increase in reports of threats and vandalism on Jewish property in the United States in the wake of the presidential election.
President-elect Donald Trump, who was reluctant to denounce support during the campaign from white supremacists and antisemites, has since repudiated racists who say they feel emboldened by his victory, as well as ultranationalist successes in Europe.
In light of these incidents, including Monday’s bomb threats against the centers, Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, called on the president-elect to “swiftly and vigorously” take action.
“Trump helped to create the atmosphere of bigotry and violence that has resulted in these dangerous threats against Jewish institutions and individuals,” he said. “Now, from his powerful position, he has chosen to remain silent as Americans are targeted with violent intimidation because of their religious and political beliefs, acts that conflict with the basic principles of the nation he will soon lead.
“His passivity in the face of these hateful actions is shameful and unacceptable,” Cotler added. “Bend the Arc Jewish Action will continue to denounce this escalating violence against our fellow Jews and against the targets of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, including Muslims, immigrants, women and people of color.”JTA contributed to this report.