Fify-seven bomb threats to 48 Jewish centers around the United States were made throughout the month of January. The coordinated threats, often targeting multiple organizations in the same hour, started on the East Coast and spread to westward two weeks ago, culminating in the evacuation of 14 Jewish community centers on Tuesday.
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After each wave of threats, evacuations and the “all clear” from the police, the community centers resume activity, leading some to dismiss the bomb threats as merely a hoax. And yet, while no bombs were found at any of the JCCs, those who regularly attend the schools, community centers, and day cares that are evacuated are shaken and fearful after each set of calls directed at the Jewish community.
Steve Schneider, whose daughter attends a JCC preschool near Chicago, was notified on Tuesday that the children were evacuated after a bomb threat. “Truthfully, I’m scared," he says, although his daughter had spent the day sick at home. "It hits a lot closer to home when its your kids and your school. A lot of the parents are upset. These are kids are below 5 years old.”
Like other parents, Schneider is struggling with how to explain the events. He planned to tell his daughter, “There are people in this world that are not nice, and they try to hurt people, and you have to make sure that you keep yourself safe,” he said.
Tzivi Stern rushed to pick up her children after the evacuation at a JCC in Wisconsin. “My first thought was complete fear. They are little kids that have to go through this,” she said. “I picked them up from the location. Pretty scary, even if the evacuation was well organized.”
Stern added that she wished there was more awareness of the bomb threats being made to the JCCs across the United States in the last weeks. After her JCC was targeted, she spoke to people who were not aware of the two previous waves of calls in January. “I wish it was covered more by the media. We should be hearing more about it,” she said.
Still shaken by the ordeal, she was saddened to see an acquaintance on social media dismiss the attack because no bomb was located. “One of my friends posted something like, 'not to worry, it was just a shock event, as if there is nothing behind it.' I just couldn’t even answer her,” she said.
For Stern, the attacks are threatening and should not be ignored. “It like a slap in the face: People still hate you. Even of there was no bomb, the hate is still there.”
An investigation is ongoing, and on Monday the Anti-Defamation League issued guidelines for Jewish organizations on handling future threats. Elise Jarvis, ADL’s Associate Director for Law Enforcement Outreach and Communal Security, told Haaretz that the FBI is treating the calls as a hate crime. “ADL and the FBI held a joint security briefing for the Jewish community last week. The FBI said that the bomb threats targeting the Jewish community are a priority public safety issue and that it is investigated as a hate crime”’ said Jarvis.
Some, however, see the threats as a sign of the times, in line with the rise of hate crimes around the country. Barbara Bank, 67, who has lived all her life in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the local JCC was evacuated on Tuesday. She says this is unprecedented in the city's small Jewish community.
“My children went there. It’s a nice place to meet each other, it also has a wonderful early childhood center,” she said of the local JCC, where she has worked in the past. “It’s very distressing to see something like what happened today. This is brand new to me. I was born and raised here, my children went to public schools here. Often times they we, I or my children, were the only Jewish children in our school, and I have never experienced any anti-Semitism.”
“Its very vicious,” she says of the attack. “You have complete trust, you are taking your kids there, you leave them there, in preschool, and this trust has been violated to the point that I don’t know what I would do if I had small children.”
“They don’t expect to be caught, they didn’t put a bomb there, they just want to cause conflict and bully us,” she said of the those calling in the threats. “This incident is just a symptom, that people think this is okay now. And It’s not.”
The original version of this article stated that 57 JCCs received bomb threats. The organization clarified that while there were 57 threats, they were made against 48 JCCs, as some JCCs received more than one bomb threat.