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Jewish leaders urge schools, JCCs to assess safety amid wave of threats

The Anti-Defamation League advised individual institutions to consider emergency measures.

Anti-Defamation League New York regional director Evan Bernstein (left) and Oren S

As a wave of bomb threats were made against Anti-Defamation League facilities in New York, Atlanta, Boston and Washington on Tuesday, organization officials said panic was the worst response —but preparation was key.

Jewish leaders in New York are recommending all potential targets have a professional assessment of their institution’s safety protocols. That comes following the huge increase —115 percent — in anti-Semitic hate crimes reported in New York so far this year. Those incidents have included vandalism, violence and bomb threats made to schools, synagogues and other Jewish institutions.

“It’s about ensuring their base and their membership, and assuring that it’s safe to bring their children and the elderly, said Evan Bernstein, the ADL’s New York regional director. "It’s going back into the building and participating — because if they don’t come back then the attackers win." He added that his colleagues quickly returned to work after a bomb threat was cleared on Tuesday.

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Bernstein added that some security could have eased because of a long-standing sense of security for Jews in New York.

“There should be much more diligence around safety protocol,” he said. “Security for every institution is different — some have robust budgets and some are on a shoestring — but what a professional assessment can bring are recommendations based on location, size and the building type.”

Rabbi Mark Wildes, founder and director of the Manhattan Jewish Experience, said he is hopeful and confident that the NYPD and other city agencies are taking these threats seriously. Mayor Bill de Blasio said they were.

"This is a moment in time, a moment in history where forces of hate have been unleashed," the mayor said in Staten Island Tuesday at a JCC that had been targeted on Feb. 28. The NYPD has pledged an increased police presence at places of worship.

“They are not just pranks,” Rabbi Wildes told Metro. It may look childish, he said, but dismissing it will only allow it to continue.

New York is a target because it has the highest concentration of Jews in the world, next to Israel. “This is where they can make the most noise. They want to target the places where they can make a big splash in a place they know they will be heard,” he said.

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Rabbi Wildes does not blame President Donald Trump for the spike in anti-Semitism, and said he has many friends who can attest to Trump's respectfulness of religious differences.

Yet he cites the president’s nationalist message of American exceptionalism as emboldening bigotry.

“When your message is America first, those who are already bigoted misinterpret the message to mean that everyone else can go to heck. The white supremacists think finally, we have a president who agrees with us,” he said.

The best protection is to come together with other groups that feel threatened, he said.

“It is just one bigotry,” said Rabbi Wildes. “It’s really an opportunity for different groups to support each other. I was very heartened to hear of the Muslim group that raised money to rebuild the cemetery," he said, referring to overturned headstones that were reported at a Jewish cemetery in Rochester, N.Y., last week. "And the individuals on the subway who banded together spontaneously to clean off the swastika graffiti.”

“We have to show everyone that this is not what New York is about or believes in,” he said.

 

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