(JTA) – When Cincinnati’s Mayerson Jewish Community Center was hit with a bomb threat on January 18, Adam Bellows was satisfied with how the staff handled the preschool kids, including his two-year-old son.
The kids, said Bellows, had no idea the threat had happened. They were evacuated and taken to a secure location where they watched cartoons.
But, after he got home, Bellow’s son started having a tough time. He couldn’t sleep, and was scared to return to preschool the next day.
“It was hard to see how much it disturbed him,” Bellows said. “He wasn’t scared at the time or anything, but, the next day, he was saying, ‘I don’t want to go to the JCC.’ He kept asking, ‘Are we going to watch Mickey Mouse again? Is mommy going to come pick me up again?’ His world was interrupted.”
More than 120 bomb threats have targeted JCCs, day schools and other Jewish institutions in the United States and Canada, coming in six waves since the beginning of the year.
While many JCCs report that members and preschoolers are staying put, there have been some exceptions. The Roth Family JCC near Orlando has seen 50 children pull out and, in Birmingham, Alabama – where the JCC has been targeted four separate times – six families have withdrawn their children.
Parents who spoke to JTA were happy with how the centres have handled the threats. The kids have returned promptly to their programs, and business has been able to carry on as usual.
“She wasn’t scared, she wasn’t worried,” said Matt Mandell, 39, of his four-year-old, a preschooler at the JCC in Rockville, Maryland, which was threatened on January 9.
“They did a great job of keeping everyone calm and not getting them scared unnecessarily. I feel very, very comfortable with it. There’s only so much you can do.”
An open letter to U.S. President Donald Trump, signed by all 100 U.S. senators, urged specific action on anti-Semitism and alluded to the fiscal pressure on JCCs.
“We are concerned that the number of incidents is accelerating, and failure to address and deter these threats will place innocent people at risk and threaten the financial viability of JCCs, many of which are institutions in their communities,” the March 7 letter said.
Several Canadian JCCs – including locations in Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg – have received bomb threats. The JCC in London, Ontario has received bomb threats twice.
In response, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the attacks in a statement issued on March 8 and pledged the federal government’s support in combatting anti-Semitism.
“This week, Jewish communities across the country have again been targeted by hateful threats and acts designed to make us all afraid. I want to say again – we will stand by you every day in the face of intolerance, prejudice and outright criminal acts. We understand the fear and anxiety each one of these threats creates in the Jewish community, especially when the locations targeted are places where Jewish families and children gather. The cowards who target Jewish schools, community centres and synagogues won’t shake our resolve, and we’ll work with law enforcement to bring them to justice,” said Trudeau.
“In Canada, we stand together because we know that diversity is our strength. It built this country. Jews in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and across the country should know they have the full support of the Government of Canada as we guard against a resurgence of anti-Semitism. We’re with you, and will do everything we can to keep you safe.”
As of press time (12 noon, March 10), there have been no bomb threats received at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre (SJCC) in Ottawa. However, staff working in the building – including SJCC, Jewish Federation of Ottawa, Ottawa Jewish Community Foundation, Ganon Preschool and Ottawa Jewish Bulletin staff – have received briefings on how to respond in the event of a bomb threat and an evacuation drill has been held.
Security protocols on the Jewish Community Campus are constantly updated, notes Federation President and CEO Andrea Freedman in a Bulletin article, to “ensure that we are appropriately prepared should there be a threat. We must all remain vigilant and attentive, while, at the same time, continue to enjoy participating in the richness and fullness of Jewish life.” (See page 3.)
Even among parents who are keeping their kids in JCC preschools that have received bomb threats, stress has been created in places meant to be immune from danger. Even as the youngest kids remain unaware of the bomb threats, they’ve resulted in scenes of cribs being pulled outside, and law enforcement officials searching Jewish community campuses. Last month, the Anti-Defamation League issued a brochure titled, “5 Tips for Talking with Children about Bomb Threats at Jewish Community Centers,” which is available online. http://tinyurl.com/ADL-5-tips
While the threats have all been hoaxes, the disruption and inconvenience are having an impact on members and parents.
“I’m not scared, I’m infuriated,” said Emily Hausman, 29, whose three kids all attend preschool at the Birmingham JCC. “I find the whole thing infuriating. A threat is just a threat. They’re not real and we’re being inconvenienced, and our poor kids are being inconvenienced, and dragged out into the rain.”
Ottawa Jewish Bulletin Editor Michael Regenstreif contributed to this report.