March 8, 2017; JTA and CNN

The phone rings. A voice tells the operator that a bomb has been planted in their building, and the alarm bells ring. This story has become all too familiar at Jewish Community Centers and other Jewish organizations across the continent. Since January, organizations in more than 30 states have faced more than 100 bomb threats. Fortunately, these have only been threats so far, but to JCCs, day schools, and other Jewish organizations, the continued impact is felt long after the buildings reopen. Communities are frightened and remain less comfortable with the nonprofits that serve them.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, captured the situation as Jewish organizations feel it.

Unfortunately, threats like this are nothing new for the Jewish community. Still, it is vitally important to take these threats seriously and to ensure that every institution is prepared to respond to this type of security emergency. That is why we are partnering with the FBI, local institutions and law enforcement to ensure that all of our community institutions are safe and secure.

The Jewish Community Centers Association, which represents JCCs in the U.S. and Canada, has expressed the organizations’ upset that despite energetic efforts by law enforcement officials to find out who was behind the threats, they have continued unabated. Earlier this week, the JCCA requested a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and urged the Justice Department to do more to stop the threats. In their letter to the AG they said, “We are frustrated with the progress in resolving this situation. We insist that all relevant federal agencies, including your own, apply all the resources available to identify and bring the perpetrator or perpetrators, who are trying to instill anxiety and fear in communities across the country, to justice.”

Organizations facing this threat must respond on two levels. In the moment, there is a need to reassure their constituencies that everything possible is being done to ensure safety:

As always, safety is our top priority, and we are continuously impressed with the JCC professionals on the ground who are relying on established best practices and strong relationships with law enforcement agencies to ensure the wellbeing of all who use and benefit from their facilities. Our JCCs are strongly rooted in communities across the country, and we will not be cowed by threats intended to disrupt people’s lives or the vital role Jewish community centers play as gathering places, schools, camps, and fitness and recreation centers.

The second, often less visible level of response is to make sure that proper procedures are in place, staff are trained to respond to threats effectively, and facilities are “hardened.” To help deal with the increasing cost of security preparedness, beginning in 2002, the federal government has provided financial assistance to nonprofits. FEMA’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program “provides funding support for hardening and other physical security enhancements to nonprofit organizations that are at high risk of terrorist attack and located within one of the specific FY 2016 Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI)–designated Urban Areas. The NSGP also serves to promote coordination and collaboration in emergency preparedness activities among public and private community representatives as well as state and local government agencies.” All 501(c)(3) organizations are eligible to apply for these funds.

Meghan Matthews, writing for WBNS-TV in Columbus, Ohio, reported on one community’s reactions to the threats.

Officials confirm Jewish Community Centers in central Ohio are interested in applying for the grant money, saying it would help ease community concerns and beef up security.

“I think this will just help folks feel that they’re crossing T’s, dotting I’s, making everybody safer,” [Howie Beigelman, Executive Director of Ohio Jewish Communities], said.

While the FBI and other law enforcement continue to round up perpetrators, the work of responding to the communal impact of the threats continues.—Martin Levine