Jewish schools, centers and cemeteries step up security after threats

ByEric Horng and Laura Podesta via WLS logo
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
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Jewish communities around the country, including in Chicago, are focusing on security as bomb threats and cemetery desecrations continue.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Jewish communities around the country, including in Chicago, are focusing on security as bomb threats and cemetery desecrations continue.

New Light Cemetery in Lincolnwood is a tranquil oasis and a reminder of a tragic past as the final resting place for many who fled the Nazis and survived the Holocaust.

"It's unfortunate that in a sacred place, a place of peace, that these precautions have to be taken. It's unfortunate in America that these precautions have to be taken," said Rabbi Jeffrey Weill, spokesperson for New Light Cemetery and rabbi at the Niles Township Jewish Congregation.

Those precautions include a network of surveillance cameras with night vision and motion sensors, as well as 24-hour staffing. It is one of several Chicago-area cemeteries panning to add even more security in the wake of a flood of hate targeting Jewish cemeteries and groups across the country.

Tuesday morning a bomb threat forced the evacuation of a Jewish day school in Chicago's Edgewater neighboorhood, one of a dozen threats sent to Jewish schools and centers across the country.

Police said a male called the school around 9:10 a.m. and said there was a bomb inside. School staff made the decision to move students and faculty safe location nearby.

"It was received this morning around 9 o'clock and we, of course, contacted the police department. We have off-duty police officers that work with us and everything went smoothly," said Judy Finkelstein-Taff, head of school.

After searching the building with K-9 units, officers gave the all-clear around 11 a.m. and let everyone back inside. Police did not say whether they found anything inside.

"Everything went as smoothly as possible. I happened to be here today, as a parent. Again, as Judy said, this is something that's happening all over the country to Jewish organizations," said Jim Roseberg, school parent and chief of staff for Jewish Federation of Chicago.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL9) condemned the bomb threat in a statement released late Tuesday morning.

"The latest instance of anti-Semitic 'telephone terrorism' was committed this morning, targeting a Jewish day school not too far from my district office," Schakowsky said. "I am monitoring the situation closely and offer my full support to the community during this troubling time. I will support law enforcement in their investigation, and hope that justice will be brought swiftly to the perpetrator of this heinous act. Anti-Semitism, in all of its ugly forms, is unacceptable and has no place in our country today."

Officials with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago said as of 11 a.m. Tuesday, they had not heard of any other threats in the area.

Several Jewish facilities across the country experienced similar scares Tuesday. The Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay, Wis., was evacuated, as was a JCC in Davie, Fla. The Anti-Defamation League, which works to fight anti-Semitism, said several of their offices also received bomb threats Tuesday.

In a sixth wave of threats since the beginning of 2017, ADL offices in Atlanta, Boston, New York and Washington D.C. received bomb threats over the phone Tuesday. Jewish community centers and a day school in Oregon, Wisconsin, New York, Florida and Maryland were also threatened. The ADL said 121 other threats had been received since early January.

"Starting in early January, as of March 1 we had tracked 121 bomb threats targeting Jewish institutions nationwide. The ones we saw last week and this morning is in addition to those 121," said Natan Pakman, assistant regional director of ADL.

Pakman said the ADL is working on a national level with the Department of Justice and several law enforcement agencies. The agency is pushing for a public task force to deal with the threats, as well as the hate and bigotry at its source.

"This is not 'normal.' We will not be deterred, or intimidated," said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO, ADL "It is time for action, and we call on the Administration and Congress to take concrete steps to catch those threatening the Jewish community."

"These are coming in at an unprecedented rate," said Bob Boyce, Chief of Detectives, New York Police Department, during an on-camera appearance with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill at a JCC in Staten Island.

NYPD said the number of bias-crimes so far this year has more than doubled compared to the same time period last year and that anti-Semitic crimes comprise the biggest increase. NYPD also said anti-Semitic crimes have nearly tripled so far this year, compared to the same time period last year.