Sunday Mornings with Rania: When Threats Hit Too Close to Home: Targeting of JCCs

Sometimes I watch the news, see the threats and think – I cannot believe what’s happening here. How do we digest this information? How do we talk about it with our kids? How do we keep going on with our daily lives when the threats seem so real, so specific and so close to home?

Many of us, sadly, can relate. Recently, bomb threats were called into Jewish centers in 11 states, about 50 cities including Chicago, Miami and Houston. Some reports count 53 bomb threats targeted at 53 Jewish Community Centers across 26 states and one Canadian province in recent months. Both the FBI and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are investigating.

According to David Posner, JCC Association’s Director of Strategic Performance: “The FBI is making it priority one. They’re making it the top priority. When you have four waves of these, affecting 53 different JCCs and 68 separate events, that is not a small number,” Posner said. “This is really an FBI issue. State and local law enforcement can’t solve this. The commonalities of the calls have to be handled at the highest level.” 

The reality is while the FBI is working on these threats, local law enforcement and the community must come together to work on them as well. People are and rightfully so, fearful. So what do we do about it? We face the issue head on:

  • Read and study. Determine whether there are threats in your neighborhood or your community center. Are they real? Call your local law enforcement office to see if they have learned of any credible threats against your neighborhood temple, community center or school.
  • Be on the lookout. This is a time when “see something, say something” means more than ever before. If you see something or someone suspicious, say something. If there is nothing wrong taking place, than there was no fowl in speaking up. If, however, your observation thwarts potential threats against our community, how thankful we will all be that you said something.
  • Know the plan. While we hope and pray to never see another terror attack or hate crime, reality is, we may. Know what the emergency plans are if an attack should happen wherever you are – at your kids’ schools, at your local temple, at your kids’ camps or your community center. Know the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s “Bomb Threat Guidance Brochure.” Talk about those plans as a community and as a family. Additionally, and even more importantly, talk about the community plan to make sure an attack can never happen. Let’s proactively work together to be part of a solution.
  • In an age-appropriate manner, TALK to your kids. PLEASE. This is a hard one and I’m sorry to say it but you have to do it. For those 5th grade and younger, remind kids about “stranger danger” and speaking up if they see something or someone that doesn’t look right. I would not share that a specific threat has been made but I would stress that if the adult in their care stresses that they need to hide, duck or run that they do so. You know your own kids and can fashion this in an age-appropriate manner. For middle school and older, it’s time to take the conversation further. Address the fact that there are groups of people who are targeting other groups and sometimes try to hurt them. By now, they have learned all about this in school and are able to digest the information in a more mature way. Talk through what hate is and how fruitless it is; remind them of the importance of saying something if they see something odd; explain that your temple, community center, etc. has a plan in place in case of anything dangerous; talk through your personal family plan in case of an emergency. Remind them that law enforcement is aware and on their side and that our communities work with law enforcement to keep everyone safe.
  • Keep the conversation going and OPEN. Silence feeds the hate that drives hate crimes. The worst thing to do is become silent and isolated in the face of fear. Talk to your neighbors, talk to others in the community. Remind people that threats against any one group is unacceptable and intolerable in our city and in our America. This is not how this country operates or thrives and it can never be accepted by both the group being targeted and the community at large. Through positive dialogue, we must remind others that we are one community of neighbors, family and friends who are all in this together and that we must keep each other safe.
  • Know the numbers. If you see something of immediate danger, call 911. If you know information that you want to pass onto law enforcement and would rather do so anonymously, call the Crime Stoppers Tip Line at 713-222-TIPS {8477}. If you want someone from Crime Stoppers to come speak to your group, call our office at 713-521-4600 and we’ll happily be there.

I hate this topic but it’s one we cannot shy away from. After all, what is terror – at its core – if it doesn’t instill such fear that we are left divided, afraid to talk and altering our way of life? We cannot do this. Over the last few years, I have read a great deal about the growth and spread of terrorism. I’ve also noticed that where there is positive education, a lot of dialogue, an overly organized system and a ready and effective law enforcement, terrorism and senseless hatred have difficulty thriving and most importantly, difficulty succeeding.

We must stand together, arm in arm, hand in hand, to protect our collective community. That’s my philosophy, I hope it is yours?

About the author

Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston