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Rash of bomb threats target local JCCs

By Jackie Lupo
TIM LAMORTE/RIVERTOWNS ENTERPRISE

The JCC on the Hudson on South Broadway in Tarrytown.

 

REGION — Two local Jewish Community Centers were evacuated Monday morning, Feb. 27, part of the latest wave of threats against JCCs and Jewish schools over the last two months.

The Shames JCC on the Hudson at 371 South Broadway in Tarrytown received a phoned-in bomb threat at 9:08 a.m., according to Lt. John Barbalet of the Tarrytown Police Department. “The specific verbiage is still part of our investigation,” Barbalet told the Enterprise. “There is a nursery school there, so they proceeded with evacuation and called Tarrytown Police.” About 100 people were evacuated, including 63 children.

Tarrytown Police and Westchester County Police searched the facility, with the assistance of the County's bomb-sniffing dogs. No explosive devices were found, and the police cleared the scene for re-entry at about 11 a.m. Barbalet said the FBI was also involved in the investigation.

About two hours later, the JCC of Mid-Westchester on Wilmot Road in New Rochelle received a phoned-in bomb threat. The occupants of the building, including about 100 toddlers, were taken to a safe location off the premises. The Westchester bomb squad searched the premises and, as in Tarrytown, found no explosives. Police gave the all-clear shortly after 1 p.m.

Rabbi David Holtz of Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown e-mailed his congregation later in the day, saying he was “angry and disgusted by the serious increase in anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Immigrant and anti-Other incidents over the past four months.” Holtz noted the events did not occur in a vacuum but had happened in the context of other hate incidents, including the desecration a few days earlier of Jewish cemeteries in Missouri and Philadelphia, and the shooting of two Indian men in Kansas.

According to the Jewish Community Center Association of North America, on Feb. 27 there were 31 incidents of bomb threats, including 23 called in to JCCs and eight to Jewish day schools in 17 states and Calgary, Canada. No bombs were found in any of the locations. Monday’s wave of threats was the latest in five waves of phoned-in threats in January and February, bringing the total to 100 incidents, all unsolved, at JCCs and Jewish day schools in 33 states and two Canadian provinces.

Also on Feb. 27, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) received a bomb threat at its San Francisco office, five days after receiving a similar call at its Manhattan headquarters. The ADL issued a Security Advisory to Jewish institutions across the country, urging them to review their security procedures.

Officials at local, state, and federal levels of government issued statements condemning hate crimes, and some also announced initiatives to combat them. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the State had instituted a $25 million grant program “to boost safety and security at New York’s schools and day care centers at risk of hate crimes or attacks because of their ideology, beliefs or mission.”

In the U.S. Congress, Reps. Nita Lowey and Eliot Engel, both Democrats whose districts include parts of Westchester, announced that the House of Representatives was relaunching the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism.

After learning of the latest round of bomb threats Monday, Rivertowns clergy of all faiths organized a strategy meeting for the next day at the Greenburgh Hebrew Center (GHC) in Dobbs Ferry. “We want to make sure our community feels safe and that these acts of cowardice are responded to appropriately," Rabbi Jay Stein of the GHC told the Enterprise. "This is really an unfortunate wave we’ve seen in the U.S.” Stein said the clergy wanted to “begin a conversation about how, as a community that is founded on diversity and the values of tolerance and love and humanity, we can stand together and spread love, not hate.”

Rabbi Billy Dreskin of Woodlands Community Temple in Greenburgh told the Enterprise after the Feb. 28 meeting, “At Woodlands, there are three of us — two rabbis and a cantor. Our reaction was, we need to do something. But this isn’t just about the bomb threats. This is just the latest manifestation of what’s happening across the country — something ugly that is moving across this country."

He continued, "We felt it was time to reach out to our clergy neighbors and ask, ‘Do you want to get together and talk and figure out if there’s something we want to do?’” Dreskin said there were between 20 and 25 attendees at the GHC gathering, including rabbis from Reform and Conservative congregations and the Chabad of the Rivertowns, as well as leaders from Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Buddhist houses of worship.

The group drafted a statement of solidarity. “We wanted to be able to speak to our community and say together, ‘We care about all the people of this area,’” said Dreskin, who explained that the statement goes beyond a discussion of anti-Semitism to reference other groups that have been persecuted for reasons such as their immigration status or gender identity. The draft is circulating to additional clergy in Westchester, gathering signatures.

At Tuesday's meeting, the clergy also discussed participating in programs such as the grassroots “Not in Our Town” project, which originated in California in 2011 and teaches residents how to work together to build safe, inclusive communities.

Rev. David Harkness of the Irvington Presbyterian Church told the Enterprise that the clergy’s statement was an effort to speak out not only against the intimidation directed at the JCCs, but also “the kind of uptick that is present around the nation of acts similar to that, an intimidation that is continuing against minorities and immigrants.” Harkness, who has been the minister at his church for 25 years, said the meeting allowed him to meet other local clergy for the first time. “I think one of the things we talked about was pledging ourselves to be together more in friendship and collegiality, and for a lot of different things, not just to protest and decry.”

The group is determined to make their meeting this week just the beginning. They plan to work together on combating gender discrimination, according to Dreskin, and to study how houses of worship can get involved in the sanctuary movement.

“We... stand up with our transgender brothers and sisters and our undocumented brothers and sisters, in an America that has been poisoned and conducive to hate coming out of the woodwork,” Dreskin said. “As organizations devoted to the opposite of hate, this is what we’re getting together to do. Isn’t that what religious organizations are all about? Standing together to advocate for the better angels inside all of us.”

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


 

March 3, 2017

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