Security and awareness heightened amid political overtones
Since the beginning of the year, the American Jewish community has seen an unprecedented number of anti-Semitic attacks. From bomb threats to graveyard vandalism, the number of incidents seems to grow each week.
In 2017, more than 100 bomb threats were made in five separate waves to Jewish Community Centers located in 33 states and 2 Canadian provinces. The most recent of instances occurred on March 7, which included the evacuation of a Jewish school in South Florida.
Jewish tombstones in three cemeteries have been vandalized in recent weeks, the most recent occurring in Rochester, New York, where more than a dozen headstones were tipped over or broken. In St. Louis the same month, more than 170 tombstones were knocked over at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery.
Although none of the bomb threats were carried out, tension runs high among Jewish communities country-wide. Jewish leaders throughout the United States have been forced to address the threats and unite their communities in a time of high anxiety.
As the state of Florida is home to a large and concentrated Jewish population of more than half a million in the southeast region alone, it’s not surprising that multiple Jewish organizations have received threats, most recently a bomb threat at the David Posnack Jewish Community Center in Davie, near Ft. Lauderdale and north of Miami.
“The community is frustrated and scared and not quite sure what the cause of a spike in anti-Semitism might be,” said Adam Kolett, executive director of the Hillel of Broward and Palm Beach Counties in Boca Raton, Florida. The campus organization offers a community for over 8,000 Jewish students attending colleges and universities in the area.
“Security at all community facilities is increased, which is a natural response,” Kolett told The Media Line. “It causes us to increase some of our budgetary outlays just to make sure everyone feels safe.”
On January 9, The Adolph & Rose Levis JCC on the campus of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, also located in Boca Raton, became one of the first JCCs to receive a bomb threat and were forced to adjust security measurements.
“The (Jewish) Federation’s first priority remains the security, safety and well-being of all campus users,” said a joint release from the JCC and the Federation.
In a February 16 press conference, President Trump suggested that the threats were not carried out by someone with true anti-Semitic motives, but instead by political opponents who want to make him look bad.
“Some of the signs you’ll see are not put up by people that love or like Donald Trump,” said the president during the press conference.
“Some of those signs and some of that anger is caused by the other side,” Trump continued. “They’ll do signs, and they’ll do drawings that are inappropriate. It won’t be my people. It will be the people on the other side to anger people like you.”
Organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League expressed concern with President Trump’s statements. A joint statement by National Chair Marvin Nathan and CEO Jonathan Greenblatt was released the same day as the press conference.
“On two separate occasions over the past two days, President Trump has refused to say what he is going to do about rising anti-Semitism or to even condemn it,” read the statement. “This is not a partisan issue. It’s a potentially lethal problem- and it’s growing…What concrete steps will the White House take to address intolerance?”
On February 21, President Trump publicly condemned the anti-Semitism, drawing widespread criticism for being late in responding.
“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible, and are painful, and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” Trump said during a visit to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
The Jewish community, much like the rest of the American population, is divided in its support for President Trump and the new White House administration, as is illustrated by the South Florida example.
“You certainly have some people that feel that they would expect their administration to speak out more strongly,” said Kolett. “And you have people that understand the perspective of the current administration.”
On March 3, a former reporter, Juan Thompson, 31, was arrested for allegedly making some of the bomb threats to JCCs. After his romantic relationship ended, Thompson is believed to have made at least eight threats to JCCs in an attempt to intimidate his former lover.
However, Thompson’s phone calls account for just a small portion of the threats that have been aimed at Jewish institutions around the country, leading community leaders and law enforcement officials to believe that other perpetrators remain at large. “I think the community felt this would be resolved more quickly than it has been,” Kolett said. “There’s a lot of confusion and concern that this wasn’t just one person and that this isn’t an isolated incident.
THOMAS CHILES is a participant in The Media Line Press and Policy Student Program, representing Florida Atlantic University.
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