Yesterday morning I received an email from my sister. It simply read: “And it continues, where is the outrage?”
Below was a forwarded message from her son’s school — which also happens to be my former high school — in suburban Maryland, informing parents that the school had received a bomb threat earlier that day. “As a precaution, the police will be sweeping the building with dogs,” the message said. “We understand that other schools in the DC area have received a similar threat this morning.”
The targeted schools were all Jewish, and they were in fact just a few of the many Jewish schools and community centers across the U.S. that received bomb threats yesterday. The threats were made in Maryland, Virginia, New York, Rhode Island, Michigan, New Jersey, Delaware, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida, Alabama and Indiana — all on the same day. Also in the past week, hundreds of headstones at Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis have been vandalized — toppled over or broken — and swastikas were scratched into cars in a Jewish neighborhood in Miami on Sunday.
These incidents are part of a bigger pattern of anti-Semitic threats and activity that began earlier this year. In what appears to be a coordinated campaign across dozens of states, at least 90 bomb threats have been phoned in to Jewish organizations on five separate days: January 9th, 18th and 31st, and February 20th and 27th. Although anti-Semitic vandalism and other acts are nothing new, those who monitor such incidents describe the intensity and frequency of these bomb threats as unprecedented, and suspect an organized effort rather than an unconnected series of events.
To me, yesterday’s bomb threats aimed at twenty or more locations in twelve different states feels like a tipping point. Maybe it’s because one of the schools that was threatened was my old school. Maybe it’s because my own nephew is a student there. Maybe I’ve just woken up to this news one too many times. But whatever the reason, these threats suddenly feel very real, and very urgent.
That urgency is coupled with frustration at the lack of clear information about what’s been happening. There’s no indication of who’s behind the threats, nor has there been a clear message that law enforcement has launched a high-priority investigation at the federal level.
I also find myself wondering how aware people are that this is happening. Has the news of these bomb threats penetrated beyond the Jewish community? And more importantly, if people have heard the news, do they actually care? Perhaps threats against Jews are more easily dismissed or forgotten because, despite the deep integration of Jews into American life, so many people still see Jews as “other” — to many people, Jews are “them,” and not “us”.
And then there’s also the issue of how the bomb threats have been dealt with at the highest level of government. Until recently, Donald Trump has been reluctant to address them head on. When a reporter (who happened to be an Orthodox Jew) asked him on February 16th about the “uptick in anti-Semitism,” Trump grew angry, and told the reporter to sit down. The President said, “I am the least anti-Semitic person you have ever seen in your life,” and then did not address the issue of the bomb threats. After being criticized for this behavior and his lack of a clear statement on the issue, Trump finally spoke up on February 21, after a tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” he said. Earlier that same day, in an interview with NBC news, Trump also said “Anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop, and it has to stop,” adding, “I certainly hope they catch the people.”
Trump’s denunciation of anti-Semitism is welcome. But I would like to see the President engage with this issue more energetically and directly. I don’t want the President of the United States to “hope” that police catch the people making the threats. I want Donald Trump — who, after all, ran as a law-and-order candidate who would make Americans safer — to commit serious resources and attention to this wave of bomb threats and desecrations, and not to rest until the perpetrators are found. I would also like him to declaim loudly and often that this behavior is unacceptable.
And for that matter, I would like to hear everyone proclaim such things. I do understand, in part, why the bomb threats, swastikas and cemetery desecrations have not gotten as much attention as they deserve: there are many other things vying for people’s attention lately. And while I, like so many people, have been feeling over-saturated and overwhelmed by the endless news cycle, yesterday’s bomb threats stood out from the noise. As I thought about the children who were being evacuated from schools and community centers all over the United States — frightened and traumatized and “othered” — it hit me that this crisis deserves everybody’s attention. It should be on the front pages of newspapers, in our Facebook feeds, on the minds of law enforcement officials, and on the agendas of government at the highest level.
And what I want to say to you is this: I am your colleague, your neighbor, your old friend from college, and I am deeply worried and upset by what is happening right now to Jews in America. Children are being targeted, gravestones are being knocked down, lives are being threatened. So please stand up and speak out with me, because we are not some faceless “other” — we are right here, and we are you.