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Thursday, October 29, 2020

Bomb threats shut down three L.A. synagogue locations on Shabbat

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Eitan Arom
Eitan Arom is a Jewish Journal senior writer, covering a range of local Jewish issues such as civic engagement, culture, Holocaust memory, faith-based activism, politics and people. Before that, he worked as a freelance journalist in Jerusalem, Washington D.C and Los Angeles. He graduated from UCLA with bachelor's degrees in mathematics/economics and communication studies.

Three Los Angeles synagogue campuses were shut down following a series of online bomb threats, disrupting normally scheduled Shabbat activities on June 10.

The Glazer and Irmas campuses of Wilshire Boulevard Temple as well as University Synagogue in Brentwood were closed shortly after 8 a.m., according to Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Officer Mike Lopez. By about 12:45 p.m., LAPD cleared all locations to reopen.

“K9 units responded to the locations to make sure to render all locations safe,” Lopez said. “At this time we have no credible threats.”

Rabbi Morley T. Feinstein of University Synagogue said a staff member “found an email that was beyond nasty — horrific language, and threatening” in a temple email account and its executive director, Lisabeth Lobenthal, called the police.

About 10 police officers answered the call. The building was empty at the time, Feinstein said.

Don Levy, the director of marketing and communications at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, said a threat came in Saturday morning via an online submission form on the synagogue’s website. LAPD was notified immediately and the synagogue’s campuses were shut down. Levy said no one was at either the synagogue’s Irmas Campus in West L.A. or its flagship Koreatown building, the Glazer Campus, at the time the threats were made.

“While a communication like that can come in through something as innocuous as an online submission form, we take them all seriously,” he said. “We take any threat seriously and investigate it thoroughly to protect everybody’s safety.”

The June 10 shutdowns follow a wave of more than 160 threats to synagogues and other Jewish buildings between January and March made by phone and email, including two against the Westside Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles. Two separate arrests have been made in connection with that series of threats.

Lopez, the LAPD officer, urged communities to exercise vigilance, and to use LAPD’s iWatch phone application to notify the police of any suspicious activity.

“We just want to remind the community to be aware of their surroundings,” he said. “If they see something, say something.”

Feinstein of University Synagogue said the only scheduled activity for the morning was a Torah study group. When participants arrived, they found the building under lockdown and retreated about a block, continuing their Torah study on the sidewalk.

The lesson of the day is, Feinstein said, “We never stop the study of Torah — no matter what.”

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