(JTA) — The Department of Homeland Security said in the wake of bomb threats to dozens of JCCs that it was “working closely with Jewish communities to advise and support on protective measures they can put in place to help keep people in their community safe.”
Secretary John Kelly in a statement released Wednesday evening called the threats and harassment directed at faith-based communities in the United States “unacceptable and escalating.” He directed his department to “heighten outreach and support to enhance public safety.”
Kelly said in the statement that the department’s National Protection and Programs Directorate had spoken with leaders of the Jewish Community Center Association of North America, or JCCA, representing more than 150 JCCs across the country, to offer training, protective measures, exercises and information sharing.
In the past 18 months, the department has held active shooter preparedness workshops with JCCs in San Francisco; Richmond, Virginia; Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Miami, with more sessions planned in Columbus, Ohio; Wilmington, North Carolina, and Philadelphia. DHS also hosted six exercises with members of the Jewish community to enhance contingency planning and response. This service also is provided to houses of worship, schools and community centers upon request, according to the statement.
“The right to worship and commune within and across faiths is fundamental to the American experience and our way of life. DHS will continue to support communities across the country to preserve these fundamental freedoms,” Kelly said.
David Posner, director of strategic performance at JCCA, in a statement praised the DHS for “offering concrete help at a time when our JCCs need to hear that the federal government is prioritizing our security.” He added: “We look forward to working with DHS through this unparalleled level of assistance, which comes as very welcome at an extraordinarily stressful time for JCCs and the diverse communities they serve.”
“We urge fellow federal agencies to follow DHS’ lead and apply all resources necessary toward finding the perpetrator or perpetrators of these disruptive, harassing calls, and bringing them to justice. We are relieved no one has been harmed, but the atmosphere created by these calls hangs over our communities and will only be lifted once someone is caught and punished,” Posner also said.
Over the past two months, nearly 90 bomb threats have been called into 72 Jewish institutions in 30 states and one Canadian province. Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia also were vandalized.
President Donald Trump condemned the anti-Semitic threats on Tuesday night in his first speech to a joint session of Congress.