December 18, 2018

Distress, relief felt after arrest of Jewish teen in bomb threats

Ultimately, the important thing to Tony Regenstreif isn’t why someone was making threatening calls to Jewish institutions across the country, including the Westside Jewish Community Center (JCC). He just hopes that the recent arrest of an Israeli-American teenager in the matter means his 3-year-old daughter, Molli, won’t be evacuated again from the facility, where she is a preschooler.

“Mostly I’m just grateful that it’s over,” the attorney said.

“This is one thing we don’t have to worry about right now and I feel gratitude for the people who stopped it,” he added.

His remarks followed news March 23 of the arrest of Michael Kaydar, a Jewish Israeli-American teenager, on suspicion of perpetrating more than 100 bomb threats against a variety of Jewish institutions in the United States.

Regenstreif wasn’t alone in welcoming the arrest of Kaydar, an 18-year-old Israeli native, even as it remained unclear whether the individual was responsible for the recent threats against the Westside JCC and the Alpert Jewish Community Center in Long Beach.

“I’m hopeful that this brings closure to what has been a very difficult ordeal for Jews and Jewish community centers across North America,” Brian Greene, director of the Westside JCC, said in a phone interview March 23.

The Westside JCC received two threats, one on Feb. 27 over the phone and another on March 9 via email. Those incidents led to the facility raising approximately $50,000 in funds toward enhancing security, according to a JCC statement.

The JCC in Long Beach received two separate threats as well, on Jan. 31 and Feb. 27.

A spokesperson in the national press office of the FBI said in an email to the Journal that it was unable to confirm if Kaydar had a role in the instances targeting the local JCCs.

“At this time we cannot confirm specific details on the threats,” a March 28 email from the FBI’s national press office said.

Since Jan. 4, there have been more than 160 threats against Jewish community centers, day schools and other institutions. The threats have been a mix of live and prerecorded phone calls and emails. All of them have turned out to be hoaxes.

Kaydar is the second person to be arrested on suspicion of carrying out these threats in 2017. The first was Juan Thompson, a former journalist who’d been fired for fabricating quotes. He is accused of placing eight threats against Jewish community centers, apparently in an attempt to get back at an ex-girlfriend.

“Early this morning in Israel, the FBI and Israeli National Police worked jointly to locate and arrest the individual suspected for threats to Jewish organizations across the United States and in other parts of the world,” a March 23 FBI statement said. “Investigating hate crimes is a top priority for the FBI, and we will continue to work to make sure all races and religions feel safe in their communities and in their places of worship.” 

The arrest took place at Kaydar’s home in Ashkelon. Kaydar’s father (the FBI was unable to confirm his name) reportedly knew of his son’s activity and was arrested, as well. Authorities discovered the suspect was using advanced communications technology — including SpoofCard, which disguises the phone number of outgoing calls — to carry out the threats.

The suspect’s lawyer has said Kaydar suffers from a mental health condition that prevented him from serving in the Israeli army and that led to him being homeschooled. Kaydar also has been accused of making threats in New Zealand and Australia.

JCC Association of North America President and CEO Doron Krakow applauded law enforcement in a statement, but said the arrest still was distressing.

“We are troubled to learn that the individual suspected of making these threats against Jewish Community Centers, which play a central role in the Jewish community, as well as serve as inclusive and welcoming places for all — is reportedly Jewish,” he stated.

The actions should nevertheless amount to a hate crime, as they involved the intentional terrorizing of Jewish communities, according to Anti-Defamation League Senior Associate Director Alison Mayersohn.

“We don’t know what motivated the alleged perpetrator, but when a perpetrator targets an institution specifically because it is a Jewish institution, that’s a hate crime, and we consider the act anti-Semitic. The ADL does not believe the perpetrator’s religion or nationality is relevant,” she said.

Another parent of a preschooler at the Westside JCC, Amanda Perez, said she was struck by the news reports that Kaydar may suffer from mental illness.

“I was surprised, but beyond that I just felt sad. I was happy they found someone. From the bit I know about it, it seems like he’s a very ill person. I felt sad for his illness,” the JCC board member said. “I was saddened that he was able to threaten so many places.”