Local Jewish Schools, Community Centers Evacuated

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About 200 people attended a candlelight vigil Sunday night in Narberth after cemetery vandalism in Northeast Philadelphia. The next day, bomb threats were called in to Jewish day schools and community centers. Photo by Rachel Winslow.

On the heels of extensive damage over the weekend to the Jewish Mount Carmel Cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia, Jewish schools and community centers were the subject Monday morning of phoned-in bomb threats that were unfounded.

Both the Perelman Jewish Day School’s Stern Center and the Kaiserman Jewish Community Center, which share a campus in Wynnewood, were evacuated.

Kaiserman Executive Director Amy Krulik said Perelman received the threat, and both the school and the JCC evacuated for about an hour as the Lower Merion Police Department checked campus buildings.

Krulik said the evacuations were orderly and the children remained calm.

“They were rock stars,” she said.

Steven Rosenberg, chief marketing officer for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said the school evacuated immediately, he said.

“They have a very solid plan of action,” he said. “Perelman is a leader in that space.”

Lower Merion Township Public Information Officer Tom Walsh said police and fire responded to the school, while the children were evacuated to Friends’ Central School. The bomb threat caller had a computerized-sounding voice, but if it was unclear if it was a live or pre-recorded call.

Two dogs — one from the Delaware County Sheriff’s Department and one from the Radnor Police Department — swept the campus buildings, but found nothing.

Perelman’s leadership tried to find some positive meaning in the events, describing it as a teachable moment. Head of School Judy Groner and Principal Wendy Smith spoke with the students after they returned to the building.

“I told them that they cooperated beautifully and that we have procedures in place that help their teachers and school administrators take care of them,” Groner said.

When a second grader asked, “Why would someone make a mean phone call to the school?” Groner responded, “Sometimes people make bad choices. We are lucky to be in a school where students make good choices and where teachers teach students to make good choices.”

The Wynnewood incident wasn’t the only one in the Philadelphia area.

The Katz Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill also was evacuated, as was the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, which is housed in the same building.

In addition, JCCs in York, Harrisburg and Wilmington, Del., were evacuated, and centers in New York, North Carolina and Indiana, among other states, also received threats.

The bomb threats continue an ongoing pattern, as about 60 Jewish centers in 24 states were evacuated between Jan. 20 and Feb. 7, the Southern Poverty Law Center said.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf issued a statement condemning the acts.

“Any anti-Semitic act or act of intimidation aimed at Jewish institutions and people in Pennsylvania is truly reprehensible and we must find those responsible and hold them accountable. This is not who we are as Americans or Pennsylvanians,” he said, in part.

A host of Jewish organizations and political leaders also issued statements condemning the incidents.

In addition, several congressmen announced the re-launch of the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism in the House of Representatives for the 115th Congress.

Krulik expressed exasperation about the continuing incidents.

“It is an unacceptable turn of events … that this ongoing behavior is happening,” she said.

This is a developing story. More to come.

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