Jewish Community Center was twice evacuated in recent weeks

WHITEFISH BAY — The Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center was evacuated twice after threats in recent weeks.

A threat was called into the local JCC on Tuesday, Jan. 31 and again on Monday, Feb. 20, leading to evacuations for several hours on both occasions.

Based on best practices, the JCC evacuations were conducted according to a prearranged plan, said Milwaukee Jewish Federation Director of Security & Community Properties Ari Friedman. The evacuations were reportedly safe, secure and orderly.

“We thank you for your patience, support, and commitment to the JCC,” said President & Chief Executive Officer Mark Shapiro, in an emailed note after the second incident. “We are blessed to serve this community, and thank you for choosing us for your wellness, education, and community service’s needs.”

Law enforcement quickly determined the threats to be “non-credible,” according to Shapiro.

“We choose to say no to the intent of a phone call and instead say yes to quality early childhood education, yes to inclusive community wellness, and yes to comprehensive social services,” he said in a Feb. 20 email to JCC membership.

“We invite you to join us here, alongside your friends and neighbors at the JCC. Be part of the strength that makes this community unique, resilient, and hopeful. Take a class, enjoy the pool, volunteer your time. In this way, we can live up to the heartfelt promise shared in Psalms: ‘Behold, how good and pleasant it is for people to dwell together in unity.’”

Milwaukee Jewish Day School and Bader Hillel Academy were not in session for the second incident.

On Jan. 31, threats were simultaneously reported at other JCCs, including in Albany, New York and Salt Lake City. Later, in February, threats were again reported at other Jewish centers, including in Birmingham, Alabama, St. Paul, Minnesota and Buffalo, New York.

Threats around the nation

At least 10 Jewish community centers across the United States were targeted with bomb threats on Feb. 20, for the fourth time in five weeks.

The threats have been called in to JCCs across the country, according to Paul Goldenberg, the director of Secure Community Network — an affiliate of the Jewish Federations of North America that advises Jewish groups and institutions on security.

“It appears to be the same serial caller” as in the prior incidents, Goldenberg told JTA.

Goldenberg said that some of the JCCs were evacuated and others were not.

“The JCCs are very well-equipped to handle this,” he said.

Goldenberg did not confirm where any of the threats occurred, saying they took place across the country and that his office “is monitoring the situation.”

On Feb. 16, President Donald Trump was asked during a news conference about the prior JCC threats and what the government’s response would be to “an uptick in anti-Semitism.” Although the reporter did not suggest Trump was anti-Semitic, the president answered by denying he is an anti-Semite and called the question “insulting.”

A total of 48 JCCs in 26 states and one Canadian province received nearly 60 bomb threats during January.  All the threats were false.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this story.