Jewish centers cope with bomb threats; graves vandalized
MICHAEL RUBINKAM, Associated Press - Jewish centers and schools across the nation coped with another wave of bomb threats Monday as officials in Philadelphia began raising money to repair and restore hundreds of vandalized headstones at a Jewish cemetery.
Jewish Community Centers and day schools in at least a dozen states received threats, according to the JCC Association of North America. No bombs were found. Many of the buildings were cleared by early Monday afternoon and had resumed normal operations.
It was the fifth round of bomb threats against Jewish institutions since January, prompting outrage and exasperation among Jewish leaders as well as calls for an aggressive federal response to put a stop to it.
"The Justice Department, Homeland Security, the FBI, and the White House, alongside Congress and local officials, must speak out — and speak out forcefully — against this scourge of anti-Semitism impacting communities across the country," said David Posner, an official with JCC Association of North America. "Members of our community must see swift and concerted action from federal officials to identify and capture the perpetrator or perpetrators who are trying to instill anxiety and fear in our communities."
The FBI and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division are investigating the threats.
In Philadelphia, police investigated what they called an "abominable crime" after several hundred headstones were toppled during the weekend at Mount Carmel Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery dating to the late 1800s.
Police said the vandalism appeared to be targeted at the Jewish community, though they cautioned they had not confirmed the motive. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said authorities were doing everything possible to find those "who desecrated this final resting place."
The damage comes less than a week after a Jewish cemetery in suburban St. Louis reported more than 150 headstones vandalized, many of them tipped over.
"I'm hoping it was maybe just some drunk kids," said Aaron Mallin, who discovered the damage at the Philadelphia cemetery during a visit to his father's grave. "But the fact that there's so many, it leads one to think it could have been targeted," he told WPVI-TV.
Well-intentioned volunteers rushed to the cemetery after the damage was discovered Sunday to begin putting the headstones back up, complicating efforts to tally the damage and perhaps investigate the crime, said Steven Rosenberg, chief marketing officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
A day later, Jewish Community Centers in nearby Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware, and a day school in the Philadelphia suburbs were among those getting bomb threats that Rosenberg called a "complete nuisance."
"There's plenty of people who are scared," said Rosenberg, who denounced the hoaxsters as "an embarrassment to civilized society."
Some 200 people were evacuated from a Jewish Community Center in York, Pennsylvania, after a caller told the front desk there was a bomb in the building, said Melissa Plotkin, the York JCC's director of community engagement and diversity. Police entered the building and cleared it, she said.
Jewish centers and schools in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Virginia also were threatened, according to the JCC Association of North America.
Paul Goldenberg, director of the Secure Community Network, a nonprofit founded by several national Jewish groups to bolster security in the Jewish community, said Jewish Community Centers and other Jewish institutions have extensive security protocols in place.
After dealing with Monday's threats, he said, the "Jewish community is back in business."
Rubinkam reported from northeastern Pennsylvania. Associated Press writers Larry Rosenthal in Philadelphia; Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Michelle R. Smith in Providence, Rhode Island; and Emery P. Dalesio in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.
Photo: Rabbi Joshua Bolton of the University of Pennsylvania's Hillel center surveys damaged headstones at Mount Carmel cemetery Monday, Feb. 27, 2017, in Philadelphia. More than 100 headstones have been vandalized at the Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, damage discovered less than a week after similar vandalism in Missouri, authorities said.(AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)