Local JCCs respond to bomb threats in U.S.

January 26, 2017
Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center. Image from Google Maps

Local Jewish community centers are examining security practices following bomb threats this month that targeted Jewish community centers across the country, including two in the San Francisco Bay Area.

None of the threats proved credible, authorities said.

“We used it as an opportunity to review internal procedures and took that as our priority takeaway,” Ayana Morse, director of the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center (SIJCC), said. “Our whole professional staff went through emergency procedures to make sure everyone felt comfortable and clear on how to respond in the event of anything happening.”

On Jan. 9, 16 Jewish community centers in Florida, Tennessee, Maryland, South Carolina, Delaware and elsewhere received bomb threats through live and prerecorded phone calls, according to the Jewish Community Center (JCC) Association of North America. Nine days later, Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael and the Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City, on the campus of the Peninsula Jewish Community Center, were among more than two dozen Jewish community centers in 17 states that received threatening calls.

In a statement, the FBI said it is working with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in investigating possible “civil rights violations in connection with threats to Jewish Community Centers across the country. The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence, and will ensure this matter is investigated in a fair, thorough, and impartial manner. As this matter is ongoing, we are not able to comment further.”

In the wake of the threats, Jerry Wayne, executive director at the Valley Jewish Community Center in Woodland Hills, participated in a webinar organized by the JCC Association of North America that discussed security concerns and procedures. Additionally, Valley Jewish Community Center board members discussed security precautions and the monthly fire, earthquake and bomb evacuation drills with children that were held as a result of the threats, Wayne said.

“So, everyone knows what’s happening and where to go [in the event of an actual threat],” he said in a phone interview.

Similarly, Brian Greene, executive director of the Westside Jewish Community Center (WJCC), said his center has reveiwed security procedures in the aftermath of the threats. “The safety of our families, our community and the WJCC staff remains of the utmost importance to us,” he said.

Several resources regarding security are available to local Jewish organizations. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles provides alerts and training while helping organizations assess areas where they may be most vulnerable. The regional office of the Anti-Defamation League “keeps Jewish institutions informed of security issues through security briefings and alerts,” according to its website. The ADL also holds an annual security briefing before High Holy Days.

“Thank God it hasn’t impacted Los Angeles,” Jay Sanderson, CEO and president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said in an interview after the recent threats. “It’s been very disruptive, clearly, on these institutions.”

Officer Robert Rothman of the Los Angeles Police Department Operations Valley Bureau, emailed synagogues, schools and other institutions to inform them of the threats that were made and emphasized the need for strong relationships between Jewish organizations and local law enforcement.

“I think there’s a disconnect between synagogues [and law enforcement] … a lot of people don’t know what to do, don’t know the basics, don’t know what to do with suspicious activity — where their police station is, how to talk about a hate crime. They don’t know basic stuff,” he said. “They should make their facilities much more inviting to local law enforcement; they should have better relationships with local law enforcement and take security more seriously.”

It is “not only good for safety and security, but also good for business” when organizations are in frequent contact with law enforcement officials, Rothman said, citing a synagogue in the Los Angeles area that “lost membership” as a result of “an ongoing threat — a specific threat from an individual.”

“People were fearful,” he said, declining to identify the synagogue. He said he hopes community members will attend a security training with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office for Bombing Prevention on Feb. 6 at Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge.

Morse, the SIJCC official, said she had already scheduled an in-person meeting with an LAPD officer to discuss security, because of the threats.

Likewise, Wayne said his institutions notified their local police and fire departments to let them know they were aware of the threats that had been made to centers across the country.

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