Jewish Centers Across the U.S. Facing New Wave of Bomb Threats

Police crime scene
Police crime scene

On Wednesday, for the second time this month, someone called the Jewish community center outside Wilmington, Del., and said a bomb was on the property.

For the second time this month, children were evacuated from schools, gym patrons had their workouts interrupted and police dogs searched the campus. And for the second time this month, it turned out to be part of a frightening nationwide hoax targeting Jewish facilities.

“It’s concerning, it’s frustrating,” said Seth J. Katzen, the chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Delaware, whose staff trains several times a year for emergencies. “But as in any J.C.C. across the country, safety and security is our primary concern.”

There were as many as 27 bomb threats on Wednesday at Jewish centers in 17 states, according to the J.C.C. Association of North America. Last week, 16 Jewish facilities received bomb threats. No injuries were reported, but nerves were rattled and routines disrupted.

As in other places, the police in Delaware said they were investigating and were in contact with the federal authorities. An F.B.I. official said the bureau and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division were investigating “possible civil rights violations in connection with threats” to Jewish community centers across the country, but declined to provide further details.

Jewish leaders called the threats a sickening sign of the times, but said individual centers had trained to address them. Both Wednesday and last week, a national alert system for leaders of Jewish centers was activated as the menacing calls poured in. After the threats last week, Jewish leaders said they had held an online training session with law enforcement officials that included tips on how to respond to bomb threats.

Jewish community centers “have prepared for situations like this,” said David Posner, a vice president with the J.C.C. Association who helps local centers refine their security protocols. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s necessary.”

In Birmingham, Ala., where a call about a bomb led to an evacuation on Wednesday, Betzy W. Lynch said the wave of threats “reinforces the importance of the work” of the centers across the country.

“We are required to look at these things and take these threats very, very seriously, but at the same time, our goal is to improve the world and build relationships with people,” said Ms. Lynch, the executive director of the Levite Jewish Community Center in Birmingham.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Mitch Smith and Alan Blinder