Federal authorities to investigate second string of hoax attacks targeting JCCs across country after 32 community centers, synagogues receive hoax threats

Police tape at the JCC in Nashville, Tennesee after the community center received a bomb threat on January 9, 2017. (Screenshot/The Tennessean)
Police tape at the JCC in Nashville, Tennesee after the community center received a bomb threat on January 9, 2017. (Screenshot/The Tennessean)


Federal authorities said Wednesday that they are launching an official probe into a wave of bomb threats to US Jewish institutions across the country in recent weeks, the latest of which came earlier Wednesday when at least 32 Jewish centers in 16 states received threats.

The FBI said the bureau and the Justice Department’s civil-rights division are investigating “possible civil rights violations in connection with threats.” The statement from the agency’s Washington headquarters didn’t characterize the threats.

“The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence, and will ensure this matter is investigated in a fair, thorough, and impartial manner,” the bureau said in a statement.

The JCC Association of North America said it was working with Jewish community centers around the world and with law enforcement agencies to “ensure that centers can safely serve their communities.” The umbrella organization thanked the “quick and thorough response from federal and local law enforcement.”

The Albany JCC closed briefly due to a bomb scare, January 18, 2017. (Screenshot from Twitter via JTA)
The Albany JCC closed briefly due to a bomb scare, January 18, 2017. (Screenshot from Twitter via JTA)


The threats Wednesday came a week after the initial wave when bomb threats were called into 16 institutions across the Northeast and South on January 9, and hundreds of people were evacuated. All the alerts were false.

The Anti Defamation League on Wednesday said it received reports of threats in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Delaware, Connecticut, Alabama, California, Maine, Tennessee, South Carolina, Missouri, Texas and Kansas.

The called-on bomb threats on January 9 seemed to have been automated while those Wednesday were issued by live callers, according to reports.

The JCC Association of North America said it was “concerned about the anti-Semitism behind these threats. While the bombs in question are hoaxes, the calls are not.”

Paul Goldenberg, the director of Secure Community Networks — an affiliate of the Jewish federations of North America, which advises Jewish groups and institutions on security — said there were bomb threats called in Wednesday to Jewish community centers, schools and other institutions in Miami; Edison, New Jersey; Cincinnati; Alabama; and on the West Coast.

News reports also cited threats in Albany, New York; Nashville; suburban Boston and Detroit; West Hartford, Connecticut; and the Orlando area.

Whether the institutions, which include schools and community centers, evacuated depended on the practices of local law enforcement, Goldenberg said.

“It’s the second salvo in 10 days, we’re asking people to ensure they stay in contact with local law enforcement,” he said.

In many cases Wednesday the callers were live, Goldenberg said, as opposed to the previous round of threats, when calls were recorded.

Operations at the Gordon JCC in Nashville returned to normal approximately an hour after a receptionist received a call stating that there was a bomb in the building, said Mark Freedman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee. The threat was delivered in a woman’s voice, but it was unclear whether the call was live or recorded, he told JTA.

Freedman said the community, which was also targeted in last week’s series of threats, would not be intimidated by the incidents, which he termed “telephone terrorism.”

“These people, whoever they are, that are making these threats are trying to intimidate, create anxiety and fear, and we are going to do what we have to do to ensure the safety and security of our valued members and constituents, but we are not going to give in to what they are trying to create, which is to drive us away from our valued institutions,” he said.

“Clearly it’s a pattern of intimidation, and it’s likely to continue in the current atmosphere that we have in this country, where hate groups feel that they can come after good-standing members of the community.”

The bomb threats Wednesday are the latest incident in a recent wave of increased anti-Semitism in the US. The Anti-Defamation League documented rising anti-Semitic abuse on Twitter last year, as well as a spike in hate crimes following the presidential election.

Elise Jarvis, associate director for communal security at the ADL, said she anticipates more incidents like this in the future.

“These things often come in cycles,” she told JTA on Wednesday. “All these things, when you bring them together, it paints an intense picture.”

As reported by The Times of Israel