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Jewish community centers react to new threats

Jewish community centers react to new threats

No arrests have been made
Jewish community centers react to new threats
Sidney Albert Jewish Community Center in Albany.
Photographer: Courtesy Google Maps

New threats Monday against Jewish community centers in New York state and across the nation prompted Gov. Andrew Cuomo to again promise state police would investigate and work closely with federal authorities to try to catch those responsible.

The scenario had a familiar ring locally, since the Sidney Albert Jewish Community Center in Albany was among those targeted -- twice -- in the first two rounds of bomb threats called in last month. In both instances, the building was evacuated and police investigated.

No arrests have been made in any of the cases, which have put the centers of Jewish community life on edge nationwide.

"Anti-Semitism of this nature should not be and must not be allowed to endure in our communities," said David Posner, director of strategic performance at the JCC Association of North America. "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."

Adam Chaskin, executive director of the Sidney Albert Albany Jewish Community Center, said he feels it when bomb threats come into other community centers.

"Every time I see another one, it's another degree of sorry because I do know what they're going through," he said. "The most important thing is that those have all been false threats or hoaxes, but you never know when it could be real."

The threats in New York on Monday were aimed at JCCs in Tarrytown, Staten Island, New Rochelle and Plainview. JCCs were also threatened in other states, including Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia on Monday.

Some have criticized President Donald Trump for not denouncing the threats more quickly, but last week, he called them "horrible," and, "a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.” Monday's threats were the first to be publicized since Trump made his statement.

On Monday, Cuomo vowed -- as he did after earlier threats -- that New York will do everything it can to investigate and prevent further incidents.

"In response to these anti-Semitic attacks, I am ordering the state police to work with our federal and local law enforcement partners to investigate these threats and apprehend those responsible," Cuomo said in a prepared statement.

Chaskin said some changes have been made in the JCC's security plans in response to the threats, but he declined to detail them.  He said the center already had a 60-page security manual, developed with police, detailing responses to many kinds of scenarios, and staff members have drilled regularly, both on their own and with police agencies, he said.

"We already had things in place, which I believe is why our staff has done such an outstanding job in handling these threats," Chaskin said.

"The law enforcement officials have been wonderful to deal with," Chaskin added, noting that the FBI is taking the lead in the national bomb threats and remains in regular contact with the Albany JCC.

At the Schenectady JCC in Niskayuna, a spokeswoman said the organization could not comment on its security arrangements and referred a reporter to a message sent out after the first wave of bomb threats nationally, which included the first threat on the Albany center. The Schenectady center did not received any threats in the recent round of calls.

"Our JCC has emergency procedures, protocols and evacuation plans in place that address the essential aspects of any security plan; including safe, secure and warm indoor evacuation locations in the winter for all of our community, from infants to seniors," Schenectady JCC Executive Director Mark Weintraub said in a message to the center's families on Jan. 20, the day after the first round of publicized bomb threats.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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