On Monday, hundreds of people were forced to evacuate 11 Jewish Community Centers nationwide – all because of a series of hateful telephone threats. The centers, which have thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish members, are highly regarded community assets that provide youth sports, preschool programs, libraries and spaces for community events that are open to all.
Threats of violence against pillars of so many communities should disgust Americans, who should rally in support of their Jewish neighbors. It’s also incumbent upon the wider community to help bring the cowardly callers to justice.
From January through this week, there have been 69 threats at 54 JCCs in 27 states and a Canadian province, according to the JCC Association of North America.
On Monday, nearly 200 people were hurried out of the St. Paul, Minn., JCC and moved to a nearby fire station while the building was searched, interrupting programming for about 90 minutes. That incident came about a month after a phoned-in bomb threat briefly closed the Sabes Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park, a Twin Cities suburb.
Fortunately all the bomb threats this year were hoaxes. No explosives were discovered, and the affected JCCs quickly resumed operations. The U.S. Department of Justice said its Civil Rights Division and the FBI will investigate the incidents because the threats violate federal law.
“We are concerned about the anti-Semitism behind these threats, and the repetition of threats intended to interfere with day-to-day life,” David Posner, a JCC Association official, said in a statement. His organization says the calls seem to have been coordinated in timing and message, and often contained promises of violence. In one recording of a threat, for example, the caller says that “a large number of Jews are going to be slaughtered.”
During the weekend, more than 150 headstones were toppled or otherwise damaged at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, just outside of St. Louis. In response, an effort organized by Muslim American activists Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi raised more than $64,000 to fund repairs. And the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those who made the false bomb threats.
Although some criticized President Trump for not seizing earlier opportunities to condemn anti-Semitism, on Tuesday he called the threats “horrible and painful … and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”
That’s right. A nation that was founded on the promise of religious freedom cannot allow hateful threats against any faith to proliferate and go unpunished. Even in these divisive times, all Americans should feel compelled to unite in the face of intolerance and hate.