Special to the Journal
Jewish Community Centers in Marblehead and Newton, along with other Jewish institutions across New England, were on alert Monday after a series of fake bomb threats were phoned in to sixteen JCCs across the country and two in England. The threats were described by one security official as unprecedented.
The JCC of Greater Boston and the JCC of the North Shore did not receive any threats, but leaders of both organizations called local law enforcement officials and took other cautionary steps to ensure the safety and security of the thousands of people of all ages who use the two facilities throughout the day and evening.
On Monday, JCCs in nine states across the Eastern U.S. – from Northern New Jersey to Maryland, North Carolina and Florida, among others, received bomb threats, forcing some to evacuate their facilities, according to Jewish Telegraphic Agency. It was unclear whether one person or a group was behind all the threats, JTA reported.
By the end of Tuesday, all of the JCCs that had received the threats were declared safe and bomb-free and had returned to normal operations, according to a statement from the JCC of North America, which was monitoring the situation.
The simultaneous threats were unprecedented, Paul Goldenberg told JTA. Goldenberg is the director of the Secure Community Network, a group affiliated with the Jewish Federations of North America that coordinates security for the Jewish community.
“We’re in a completely different world now than we were a couple years ago,” Goldenberg said. “What is unprecedented is in the shortest period of time we received a substantial number of bomb threats. These offenders are leveraging technology to intimidate and/or terrorize communities.”
The FBI is investigating the bomb scares, JTA reported.
The New England Anti-Defamation League alerted all Jewish institutions in the region about the threats in other regions and reached out specifically to JCCs, according to Robert Trestan, regional director of the NE ADL.
“There is no better reminder than to brief staff on exactly what to do if this call comes, whether it’s Newton or Marblehead,” Trestan said. The Jewish community remains a target, he said. “What happened yesterday is living proof of that.”
The Marblehead police responded promptly to his phone call, said Martin Schneer, executive director of the JCC North Shore. They assured him that there were no threats at the local level. There was no evacuation of the premises, a hub of activity and programs for all ages that includes a preschool, day care and after-school program, as well as programs for adults.
“We try to get the right balance to make sure we are prepared but avoid creating panic,” he said.
Police did use the opportunity to review the JCC’s practices and written policies in the event of a similar situation. “They said they were sound,” Schneer reported. Two years ago, the town’s chief of police, Robert O. Picariello traveled to Israel as part of New England ADL’s counterterrorism study trip.
In a letter to its members, provided to the Journal, the director of the JCC of Greater Boston, Mark Sokoll, said there had been no threat at the Leventhal-Sidman Center in Newton, or its off-site affiliates.
“Nevertheless, we are monitoring the situation closely and are taking appropriate additional security measures as necessary,” Sokoll wrote.
The unusually cold temperatures were a factor that had to be considered in the event an evacuation was needed, Sokoll wrote in an email. “Our local police department responded quickly by increasing patrols and making visits to the front desk of the JCC. Otherwise we have well-established procedures for security situations,” Sokoll wrote.
The Leventhal-Sidman center houses multiple programs for children, a fitness center, pool and other amenities and offices.