Jewish Center and School Groups Ramp Up Response to Bomb Threats

After 100 bomb threats to Jewish community centers and schools, groups are working to keep member schools and centers informed and are coordinating with federal authorities to provide security expertise on protective measures.

It’s been a week of accelerating threats and rising anxiety in the Jewish community. On Monday, the number of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and schools reached 100. Since the first wave in January, 81 JCCs and Jewish day schools in 33 states and two Canadian provinces have received threats. All have proved to be false, and the schools and centers have resumed normal operations. The FBI is investigating.

Our entire community of schools now suffers from the anxiety and fear that these threats engender, whether their schools have been the direct target or not.

Paul Bernstein, CEO of Prizmah, a network of Jewish day schools, said in a statement that the bomb threats “have a multiplying effect: Our entire community of schools now suffers from the anxiety and fear that these threats engender, whether their schools have been the direct target or not.”

To support their members, Prizmah and the JCC Association of North America are providing training and other resources. Both groups are working with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Secure Community Network, which provides security-related research, practices, and guidance. The network was established after 9/11 to work with Jewish institutions throughout North America on security.

“We’ve tried to listen very closely to what schools need and what experts advise,” Bernstein said. Prizmah is creating a webinar series to give schools up-to-date information on bomb threat procedures and protocols, as well as crisis communication plans.

On Wednesday, JCC Association held a conference call for JCC leaders with DHS representatives. DHS Secretary John Kelly promised heightened support.

“The Department of Homeland Security is offering concrete help at a time when our JCCs need to hear that the federal government is prioritizing our security,” said David Posner, the association’s director of strategic performance, whose role involves advising local JCCs on security policies and practices, in a statement. “DHS has promised that its protective security advisors, stationed in all 50 states, will be in contact with JCCs within the next week, offering their expertise on protective measures, threat reporting, and security awareness.”

JCC Association and Prizmah have praised staff members at schools and centers for responding quickly and professionally to the threats and for working closely with law enforcement. The schools’ role in communicating with their communities is also important, Bernstein said. They are “reassuring families that life goes on.”

Prizmah is facilitating peer-to-peer groups to support heads of schools and other leaders, and it is using its network to collect resources such as sample letters to communities, ideas about how to speak with students, and resources to share with parents.

The two groups have expressed growing concern about the rising tide of anti-Semitism. This week also marked the third incident of vandalism committed at Jewish cemeteries.

On February 22, more than 150 members of Congress sent a letter to Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and FBI Director James Comey calling for quick action.

“We urge the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to swiftly assess the situation and to advise Congress on what specific steps are being taken, or will be taken, to deter such threats from being made, to identify and prosecute the perpetrators for violations of federal criminal laws, and to enable JCCs to enhance security measures such as physical barriers and guards, in the event that an individual seeks to act upon these threats,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) and Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) wrote in the letter.

Dozens of Jewish organizations, including JCC Association, endorsed the letter.

Religious leaders from around the Washington, DC area stand in solidarity with the Bender Jewish Community Center on Friday. The center suffered a bomb threat in January. (Montgomery County, MD/Flickr)

Allison Torres Burtka

By Allison Torres Burtka

Allison Torres Burtka, a longtime association journalist, is a freelance writer and editor in West Bloomfield, Michigan. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!