The Montgomery County Council agreed Tuesday to hold a public hearing on April 4 to allocate $225,000 to three Jewish institutions so that they could beef up their security in light of the 130 bomb threats received across the United States since the beginning of this year.
The most recent threat occurred Monday night at the Bender Jewish Community Center in Rockville. A threatening email was received at 11:32 p.m., said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
Halber declined to say who the email was sent to, noting, “I am not interested in giving anyone ideas.”
The JCC staff conducted two building sweeps, and police also performed an internal and external sweep of the building with dogs, President and CEO of the JCC Michael Feinstein wrote in an email to JCC members.
“We continue to operate as usual, but with our heightened level of security,” he wrote.
The incident was the second threat the JCC has received. In the earlier incident, the JCC was evacuated. The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, both of which are located in Rockville, also have received bomb threats.
“Given the serious nature of recent anti-Semitic threats, I believe it is prudent and urgent that we assist the Jewish community in protecting their schools, their offices and their community services facilities,” County Executive Ike Leggett wrote to council members when he requested the additional funds for security.
Only three days before the threat was emailed into the JCC, more than 100 interfaith clergy members filled the stage at that facility, to show their support not only for the many Jewish institutions that have received bomb threats but also for members of other minorities who have received similar messages of hate in recent days.
Joining in the show of solidarity were the area’s federal, state and local politicians and police department.
Over and over again, the speakers stressed the need to work together and stand united rather than be cowed by threats, hate graffiti and bullying.
“We need to stand together as brothers and sisters,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D). “It is only when they divide us that they are ultimately successful,” he said.
Steve Rakitt, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, agreed. “As a community, we are stronger. Our strength is in our unity, and we are united against hate.”
Halber, who emceed the program, delivered a strong message to the perpetrators. “You will fail. We will continue to celebrate our Jewish faith and access our institutions,” It’s the perpetrators and not the subjects of their hate, who should be scared, he said.
“We will not be indifferent. We will not be silent. We will not give hate power. We will speak out,” Halber said.
As of the beginning of this week, more than 130 bomb threats had been received in 32 states. On March 7, four ADL offices, including the one in Washington, and several JCCs and one Jewish day school in the United States were targeted in the latest round.
Also last week, the FBI arrested Juan Thompson, 31, of St. Louis, on charges of cyberstalking. He is being investigated in connection with at least eight of the bomb threats phoned into Jewish institutions.
“This hatred must stop, and must stop now,” said Leggett, who addressed the filled auditorium March 3.
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D) said he has spoken with Baltimore’s FBI office and State Attorney General Brian Frosh to learn what was being done to find the perpetrators.
“This is a team effort,” Cardin said. “Any crime is terrible,” he said. “But a hate crime, which is motivated by the worst reasons, we are going to put a special attention to any hate crime that is committed in our community.”
County Police Assistant Chief Darryl McSwain, who said his department stood in solidarity with all faith communities, urged anyone with information to tell the police.
He said his department was increasing patrols and was available to any institution that wanted to learn best security practices.
“We will together overcome this hate.”
U.S. Rep. John Delaney, (D-6), agreed, telling the crowd that history has shown the need to stand up. Make sure “what we know could happen, doesn’t happen again.”
And U. S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8) noted that bomb threats at schools and community centers are “hardest on the kids. It’s a terrifying thing.”
Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School Headmaster Rabbi Mitch Malkus spoke of the “emotional shock” of learning that someone wanted to blow up his school. “A feeling of dread” spread through students who moments ago had been joyful during a special assembly and nervous parents.
Also commenting on the angst was JCC CEO Feinstein, who spoke of the anguish of evacuating 200 preschoolers. “Being a target of hate is very isolating,” he said. Any hate crime “is an act against us all.”
People from 170 different cultures call Montgomery their home, and “we are so much better for it,” said County Council member Roger Berliner.
“The rise in hate crimes is a fact,” he said. “It is not an alternate fact. It is a sad fact.”