As communities cope with recent anti-Semitic attacks, Jewish officials urge action

Image Source Pink/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — After tombstones were found toppled at Jewish cemeteries in Missouri and Pennsylvania, and nearly 100 Jewish Community Centers and schools nationwide received bomb threats, Jewish
leaders are urging President Trump to take action.

On Monday, 21 bomb threats were called into 13 JCCs and eight Jewish schools in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode
Island and Virginia, the JCC Association of North America said. No bombs were found at any location.

There have been 90 incidents this year alone, spanning 73 locations in 30 states and one Canadian province, the JCC Association said. The FBI and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are

While the threats were false, Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, told ABC News the threats created “terror” for the preschool children, the elderly and teenagers who were
evacuated, as well as their parents.

“This is absolutely abnormal and it is totally unacceptable that anyone, anywhere, at any time, could be terrorized because of their faith,” Greenblatt said.

David Posner, director of strategic performance at JCC Association of North America, told ABC News that as far as the organization knows, “the FBI has not yet determined who the perpetrators are,
so we do not yet know what their motives are.” But he added that he sees a “general rise in the level of intolerance in this nation now, and I think it gives the feeling that people can act with
greater impunity.”

Besides bomb threats, two Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized within one week. On Feb. 20, over 100 tombstones were found overturned at the Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in University City,
Missouri. On Sunday in Philadelphia, over 100 headstones were discovered toppled and cracked at the city’s Mount Carmel Cemetery. Authorities are investigating both cases.

Rabbi Yosef Goldman of Philadelphia’s Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel recalled seeing “row upon row of toppled tombstones” at Mount Carmel Cemetery.

“Many of them weighed several hundred pounds,” he explained. “What I saw was devastating.”

To Steve Rosenberg, an official with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia who also visited the cemetery, “it was clearly a deliberate act of violence and desecration.”

“It took a lot of effort and intention to commit this crime. … Headstones are very heavy and some of them are gigantic — the size of a car,” he said. “This had to be a group of people that were
here for a long time.”

Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said the anti-Semitism extends beyond cemetery vandalism and threats to JCCs; it also includes graffiti at synagogues and a “tsunami of anti-Semitic
slander on social media.”

Religious attacks in the past week also extended to the Muslim community; investigators said a fire at a Florida mosque on Feb. 24 was intentionally set.

Goldman and Greenblatt, who both noted a surge of anti-Semitism and hate crimes since the presidential election, pointed to the role of the Trump administration.

“We have not seen — until last week — our political leadership speak out in a strong way against these incidents,” Greenblatt said.

When anti-Semitism is not immediately condemned by the White House, “extremists felt emboldened,” he added.

“Words have consequences, and a lack of words have consequences,” he said.

Feb. 21 marked the first time Trump directly addressed recent incidents of anti-Semitism after he received backlash from various groups. Speaking at the National Museum of African American History
and Culture in Washington, D.C., he called the recent JCC threats a “painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”

While Goldman said “it will take more than a single statement” from Trump “to show that he is serious about combating the rise of anti-Semitism,” Greenblatt said Trump’s statement was “really

He added, “Now is the time to move from words to action. Now is the time for our leaders to not only speak out, but to step up and apply the full force of the federal government to addressing
anti-Semitism. … We’re prepared to work with the administration to help make that happen.”

In a statement Monday, Posner of the JCC Association called on the FBI, the White House, the Justice Department, Homeland Security, Congress and local officials to “speak out forcefully against
this scourge of anti-Semitism” across the U.S. and to catch the “perpetrators who are trying to instill anxiety and fear in our communities.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions told reporters Monday, “I have seen the Jewish synagogue attacks, threats and things, which is a very serious and disruptive practice. This Department of Justice will
do what it can to assist in pushing back against that and prosecuting anybody who was a part of it.”

Rabbi Goldman said he spent Sunday morning praying among the desecrated graves at the Philadelphia cemetery but said he remains full of hope. He was joined by members of the community that included
Muslims, Christians and a Quaker.

“In the Jewish tradition,” Goldman said, “the greatest act of love and kindness one can show is to see to the needs of the dead. It was touching to see all of these people show up to do whatever
they could on behalf of those who were laid to arrest.”

He continued, “It was extremely moving. Faith amidst the darkness.”

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