Bloomington-based Congregation Beth Shalom and The Helene G. Simon Hillel Center are taking steps to increase safety after a rise in threats and vandalism targeting Jewish organizations, synagogues, schools and cemeteries across the country.
Since the beginning of the year, Jewish organizations across the country have received 116 bomb threats.
Most of the bomb threats have been occurring in waves, or large numbers of calls coming in on a single day. On Feb. 27, bomb threats were called into at least 35 organizations across the country. This is the largest number ever reported in one day.
On Monday morning the Jewish Community Center in Indianapolis evacuated after receiving a bomb threat, which was later determined to be a hoax.
On the same day a bullet hole was found in a classroom window of Temple Adath B’Nai Israel in Evansville, Indiana. The shot is believed to have been fired Sunday, and no one was harmed.
The number of anti-Semitic incidents has prompted Beth Shalom to increase security, Beth Shalom President Carolyn Geduld said.
Beth Shalom is reviewing security procedures and holding lockdown drills. It is also planning for an FBI consultant to come to Bloomington to discuss security measures.
Since December, Beth Shalom has implemented a locked-door policy, meaning the center is locked except during religious services. People now have to ring the doorbell to enter.
Geduld said the increased security began after local incidents like the vandalism of a Bean Blossom church in November, which was found with a swastika, anti-gay slur and pro-Trump graffiti.
“When the incidents began, we decided we needed to beef up our security,” Geduld said.
Beth Shalom is also hiring security guards for public events, she said.
“We need to be united as one people and stand together against all intolerance and prejudice,” Geduld said.
The Hillel Center is concerned and trying to be more conscious of security, Hillel executive director Rabbi Sue Laikin Silberberg said.
Hillel dealt with some vandalism within the last week, she said. Three letters were removed from their sign. It was reported to the IU Police Department, which is still looking into the incident.
At Hillel, extra patrols from the IUPD have been added this week in response to the increase in threats, and IUPD has reviewed procedures about what to do in case of a bomb threat.
“It’s scary, and there certainly has been a climate on the national level that unfortunately has supported the rise of hate groups, and right now there has been a rise in white supremacist groups across the country,” Silberberg said.
She said she has been worried that the Trump administration has been ignoring the rising anti-Semitic acts. She was particularly concerned by the White House’s statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day, which did not mention Jewish victims.
However, Silberberg said she is happy to see some changes in Trump’s approach to issues of anti-Semitism, which he publicly addressed for the first time in office last week. In the opening of his speech to Congress, he remarked on the recent threats to Jewish facilities.
“Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms,” Trump said.
It is important for people to stand up for minority groups who are threatened by hate speech and hate crimes, Silberberg said.
“Judaism teaches us to protect those who are most marginalized in society,” Silberberg said. “We need to know to be really standing up for anybody and everybody who feels threatened and feels afraid that their rights are compromised or marginalized.”