Arizona Jewish community centers targeted in bomb threats

Two Jewish community centers in Arizona were targeted with bomb threats Monday in the fifth wave of such threats to centers across the country in two months.

The threats against Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center in Scottsdale and Tucson Jewish Community Center were part of a string of 31 bomb threats to Jewish community centers and schools across the United States. According to the JCC Association of North America, there have been 100 incidents involving bomb threats in 33 states and two Canadian provinces since the beginning of the year.

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, president and dean of the Valley Beit Midrash, said the threats in Arizona and across the country are unlike anything he has seen in the state.

“Jews historically have been safe in America and Arizona,” Yanklowitz said. “The fact that locally we find swastikas popping up, we find attacks on home, we find bomb threats, and that just scratches the surface of the new emergence of anti-Semitism in the state, that this is really unprecedented.”

There are about 100,000 to 150,000 Jews and more than 60 synagogues in Arizona, according to Yanklowitz.

Both the Tucson and Scottsdale JCCs followed procedures when they received the threats and both have been cleared to resume operations, according to Carlos Galinda-Elvira, the Arizona regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. He added that the organization has put out security advisories for JCCs and schools.

“For the longest time we had not seen those kinds of threats to our JCCs while it had been happening to surrounding states,” Galinda-Elvira said. “Now it’s happened here.”

Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center declined to comment on the threat, and Tucson Jewish Community Center did not return a request for comment in time for publication.
Galinda-Elvira said although he couldn’t point to one reason for the threats, some of the things said in the 2016 presidential election could be a factor.

“We’re coming off of a highly heated general election where many things were said and we know that the genie’s out the bottle and there is this level of anti-Semitism that is now flowing and permeating throughout our nation,” Galinda-Elvira said. “And (what) we’re going to do is we’re going to fight against it and we’re going to be leaders in the community … because a threat to one community is a threat to all communities.”

But Yanklowitz attributed much of the anti-Semitism to the Trump administration’s rhetoric and policies.

“Hate groups that were underground are now coming above surface because they’ve been emboldened by the new administration and their supporters,” he said.

JCC director of strategic performance David Posner called upon the government to take action in light of the recent events.

“Anti-Semitism of this nature should not and must not be allowed to endure in our communities,” Posner said in a statement. “The Justice Department, Homeland Security, the FBI, and the White House, alongside Congress and local officials, must speak out – and speak out forcefully – against this scourge of anti-Semitism impacting communities across the country.”

Yanklowitz said religious and minority groups in Arizona should stand together, as members of groups have been targets of various threats and hate crimes.

“We are saying, ‘we are together,'” he said. “And whoever is attacked and the victim of hatred, we would stand in solidarity.”

(Video by Natalie Tarangioli/Cronkite News)