After a bomb threat called in to the Mid-Island Jewish Community Center in Plainview on Feb. 27 — the second to centers of its kind in Nassau County this year — police announced heightened patrols around the county’s religious institutions and have launched a full investigation.
Over the last two months, more than 100 threats — all unfounded — have targeted 81 locations around the country, Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said at a Feb. 28 news conference in Mineola. On Jan. 18, the Barry and Florence Friedberg Jewish Community Center in Oceanside received a bomb threat, which caused staff, guests and members to evacuate.
More than a month later, the Plainview facility became the target. Nothing was found, in both cases, after police searched the buildings.
“Obviously a threat to any one person’s constitutional right to express freedom of religion is a threat to every citizen here in our county,” County Executive Ed Mangano said at the conference. “… We have worked and have recognized that we have to do more to combat terrorism.”
Nassau police, in conjunction with the New York City Police Department, New York State police, Suffolk police and members of the FBI, are probing the threats, Krumpter said. He added that though he could not say at the time whether the national waves of threats are connected, there were similarities between the ones made to the Oceanside and Plainview centers.
Rabbi Andrew Warmflash, of the Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre, said he is confident in the security measures being taken. He added that there is a low level of insecurity due to growing anti-Semitism in America and even across Europe, but he is not overly concerned.
“I’m personally not worried about some growing sinister force in our community,” he said. “What I’m worried about is lone actors. People who pick up on this climate and feel empowered to act. We have to protect ourselves against them.”
Warmflash noted that he has reviewed the HERJC’s security plan and is confident in it. As far as causes of the increase in anti-Semitism, Warmflash said the recent presidential election may have spurred it, but is not the sole reason.
“It seems to me there are forces of hate that have felt for whatever reason empowered after the last presidential campaign,” he said. “And they’ve come out from under the rocks where they were hiding.”
He noted that anti-Semitism is not a new phenomenon, and it has been a part of the Jewish experience for generations.
On March 3, police arrested Juan Thompson in St. Louis, Mo., for allegedly making eight threats in January and February against the Anti-Defamation League office in New York, a Jewish history museum in Manhattan, as well as Jewish centers and schools in New York, Michigan, Dallas and San Diego — some in the name of an ex-girlfriend as a way to harass her, according to court documents.
Intensified patrols at religious institutions, which began in December around the holidays and persisted after the threat to the Friedberg JCC in mid-January, will continue, Krumpter said. NCPD’s intelligence units contacted all of the roughly 180 Jewish religious institutions in the county after the Oceanside threat, he added, and police will be visiting such facilities more frequently and for longer periods of time.
Krumpter said the increased protection around the county would extend beyond Jewish institutions. “What I encourage everybody to do is go on with their lives, go to their house of worship,” he said, “and let them know that we, as a society, can not be intimidated.”
Arthur Katz, senior ambassador of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Long Island, emphasized at the news conference that increased police presence is just one aspect of combating what Krumpter labeled as “fear tactics.”
“You’ll see the patrol cars, but then it’s what you don’t see that also makes a difference,” Katz said. “The police and our community centers and our synagogues have also taken precautions although you might not see them.”
For example, Krumpter said police would be working to implement the Rave Mobile Safety system — a panic app already used in some of the county’s schools — within religious institutions. The app allows users to reach law enforcement, first responders and on-site employees during an emergency with one tap on a cell phone. In addition, the system can share information about the affected location, including emergency contacts and surveillance camera feeds.
Warmflash said the HERJC does not have plans to implement the system yet, but said if he finds it to be worthwhile, things could change.
Joni Center, executive director of Oceanside’s Friedberg JCC, told the Herald last month that the facility is constantly upgrading and evaluating security for every changing situation, but did not specify measures that the facility had taken since the threat.
In a letter released following the Plainview facility’s evacuation last week to the community, Center said that the Friedberg JCC has been in “constant contact” with local law enforcement as well as the FBI, the Secure Community Network and the Department of Homeland Security.
“Without minimizing the impact or intent of these phone calls, it’s important to remember that the JCC is uniquely prepared to offer a safe and values-driven environment,” Center wrote. “We choose to say no to the intent of a phone call and instead say yes to quality early childhood education, yes to inclusive community wellness, and yes to comprehensive social services.”
In response to the most recent of the five waves of threats to JCCs so far this year, which targeted not only the Plainview facility, but also centers in 11 states — including in Staten Island and Westchester — Sen. Chuck Schumer called on the Federal Communications Commission to allow targeted JCCs to trace call information.
In a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Varadaraj Pai on March 1, Schumer (D-N.Y.) cited the agency’s passage of a special waiver last year that allowed the Middletown School District in New York to access caller information after it received terror threats over the phone.
“These senseless, hateful attacks are unacceptable and should be investigated thoroughly and expediently,” Schumer wrote. “I urge you to do everything in your power to track these perpetrators down and prevent future attacks.”
The agency granted a temporary emergency waiver for targeted JCCs to trace caller information on March 3.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo also announced in a statement last week that his administration is investing $25 million to boost safety and security in the state’s religious schools and daycare centers.
At the conference, Rabbi Dov Schwartz connected the threats to Purim, a Jewish holiday that begins on March 11 this year, that commemorates the saving of Jews from Haman, who planned to assassinate them. “This is not the first time the Jewish community and its institutions have been threatened,” Schwartz said.
Facing cameras and reporters, he then finished his address. “I’ll just conclude with one word which expresses our goal, the goal of all of us,” he said. “That is, Shalom.”