Monday, February 17, 2020

The Jewish Community Centers in Edison and Scotch Plains received bomb threats on the morning of Wednesday, January 18. Both were evacuated and searched; there were no bombs found in either building.

January 18 marked a second wave of bomb threats to JCCs around the country. The first wave took place the previous week, when, on January 9, there were 16 bomb threats at JCCs in different states across the country, including at Tenafly’s Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in New Jersey, and others in Connecticut, New York, and Florida. The second wave was more expansive, with the JCC Association of North America reporting that 27 threats were called into JCCs in 17 states.

“In light of last week’s threats,” said Laurie Post, the facility director of the JCC in Edison, referring to the threats that included the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, “we reviewed our protocol and we were prepared when the threat came.” The evacuation went smoothly and safely. The threat, a recorded call to the JCC, occurred at around 9 a.m., and Post said the police investigated and reported that there was no bomb in the building.

Detective Robert Dudash of the Edison Police Department commended the center’s calm and orderly response to the threat. “My understanding is that they were already evacuating when the first responders had arrived on scene,” Dudash said. Police received a call from the Edison JCC at 9:08 a.m. and arrived immediately on the scene, explained Dudash. First responders assisted in completing the evacuation, and then proceeded to search the building. Afterwards, sheriff’s deputies from Middlesex County and state police officers arrived with K-9s (bomb-detecting dogs), to conduct a more thorough search of the premises. The detective verified that no one was injured, and that the threat was indeed a hoax.

In a press release sent out on Wednesday, the Anti-Defamation League issued a security advisory to Jewish institutions across the nation, and urged all communal institutions to take the threats seriously. “Although so far these threats do not appear to be credible, we are recommending that Jewish communal institutions review their security procedures and remain in close contact with law enforcement,” said ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt.

The Kaplen JCC in Tenafly sent out a security update on Wednesday in response to the more recent threats. “We are in communication with local and county authorities who are aware of today’s activities and are taking appropriate precautions to ensure the continued safety and security of our JCC,” the safety protocol read. “We are taking additional security measures as needed to ensure the safety of all who enter our doors.”

It was noted that in the second wave threats, JCCs reported that the callers calling in the bomb threats were live, while in the case of the January 9 threat, all the JCCs threatened received a recorded message.

In terms of further security measures, Dudash recommended increased vigilance around the Jewish Community Center, and any other Jewish facility. “Moving forward, I believe one of the main things they can do is keep their eyes open for suspicious persons or packages,” Dudash said. “A lot of transit authorities use ‘If you see something, say something.’” So too should be the mindset of these local institutions; if something does seem suspicious, he urged citizens to immediately call law enforcement in order to help prevent an emergency situation.

By Elizabeth Zakaim