Posted on

Update: 11 more bomb threats target Jewish Community Centers. Ivanka Trump responds

(CNN)Samantha Taylor was at Orlando’s Jewish Community Center for a morning meeting when she heard reports of a bomb threat crackle from the director’s walkie-talkie.

Her daughter attends preschool there; she ran to the classroom and evacuated with the students and teachers.
While police and bomb-sniffing dogs searched the building for several hours, the teachers kept the children calm and happy at a safe spot down the street, Taylor said. No explosives were found.
    On the same day, January 4, an Orlando Chabad center also received a threatening call, marking the first trickle in what would soon swell to waves of calls menacing Jewish institutions across the country.
    In all, 48 JCCs in 26 states and one Canadian province received nearly 60 bomb threats during January, according to the JCCA, an association of JCCs. Most were made in rapid succession on three days: January 9, 18 and 31. A number of JCCs, including Orlando’s, received multiple threats.
    On Monday, another wave of bomb threats hit 11 JCCs across the country, bringing the total to 69 incidents targeting 54 JCCs in 27 states, according to the JCCA.
    Also on Monday, Ivanka Trump, who converted to Judaism, tweeted: “America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance. We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers. #JCC”.
    Ivanka Trump is the first member of the Trump family to comment on the bomb threats. The next day, President Donald Trump himself denounced the JCC bomb threats and anti-Semitism in general.
    “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” Trump said after a tour of the National Museum of African American Museum and Culture.
    In a statement, the FBI said the bureau and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are “investigating possible civil rights violations in connections with threats to Jewish Community Centers across the country.”
    On Tuesday, the Simon Wiesenthal Center urged Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appoint a special task force to catch the culprit, or culprits, behind the bomb threats.
    “The multi-pronged threats of anti-Semitism today demand concerted action,” said Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish human rights organization.
    The JTA, a Jewish news agency, says it has obtained a recording of one of the calls. On it, the caller says a C-4 bomb has been placed in the JCC and that “a large number of Jews are going to be slaughtered.”


    Since the threats began, Kveller has run at least five columns about them. Some of the writers are distraught. “Did the people who decided to call in a bomb threat wish it was real?” asked one mother. “Did they think about my babies and wish that they could really blow them up?”
    Others columnists were more defiant. “I’m not scared to be a proud Jewish mother in the United States of America in 2017,” wrote Jordana Horn, “and neither should you be.”
    Other Jewish mothers say they don’t know what to make of the bomb threats, or how they should react.
    “The question is: How serious is it?” said Elissa Strauss, a parenting columnist for Slate whose son attends a JCC preschool. “That’s what I, as a Jew and a parent, am trying to work out. I don’t think I have a clear understanding of what I’m supposed to do right now, besides not give in.”
    Strauss said the relative lack of media coverage about the threats adds to her perplexity. She’s not alone: “48 U.S. Jewish Centers Received Bomb Threats in Past Month,” ran a headline in Haaretz. “‘Why Is No One Talking About This?'”
    Parents are asking: Is it because no bombs have exploded? Because the protection of children is seen primarily as a “women’s issue”? Because Trump’s chaotic new administration dominates news cycles? Or because JCC leaders are trying to quiet the story for fear of panicking parents and losing students?
    Ivy Harlev, director of the JCC in Wilmington, Delaware, which received two bomb threats last month, says she is “torn” about whether more media should have covered the threats.
    “I don’t want that kind of negative attention, but I want to make sure that people know that we are a secure place, and that we have the support of local law enforcement.”
    Like many JCCs that have received threats, Harlev’s quickly assembled a town hall so parents could question administrators, local police and FBI representatives. Two families decided to withdraw their children from the JCC’s early childhood education program, Harlev said.
    In Albany, Orlando and elsewhere, JCC staffers have tried to bolster security — and ease parents’ peace of mind — by closing entrances, blocking phone calls from unknown numbers and posting bollards to block vehicles from getting close to their buildings.
    At least one family was satisfied by the changes.
    For nearly four years, Melissa Braillard, a mother of two in Orlando, had sent her children to the JCC. She knew and liked the teachers, the administrators, the other parents and their children.
    “I feel like I had a support system, and people cared for us.”
    But after the third bomb threat and weeks of worrying, Braillard removed her children from the JCC. “I need to keep my kids safe,” she thought at the time.
    A few weeks later, though, Braillard agreed to return to the Orlando JCC to see its security improvements. She came away impressed.
    Because her son would be starting kindergarten soon at another school anyway, he is not returning to the JCC. But her daughter will be back in the classroom on Monday.
    On March 8, the Orlando JCC is holding a fundraiser, where it hopes to raise $200,000 to help the center break even for the year. It has already found three donors to match donations, potentially quadrupling the windfall.
    Meanwhile, parents like Taylor, the mother who witnessed the first bomb threat, are determined to keep the doors open. “Our JCC isn’t going anywhere,” she said, “and that’s the most important message.”

    Read more: