Shortly after noon on Wednesday, the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy’s Schwartz Campus in Bryn Mawr received a call that became “a material and physical threat to the campus,” according to Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia CEO Michael Balaban.
The campus went into lockdown as the Lower Merion, Radnor and Haverford police departments were called in, along with the FBI. Students were relocated for over three hours as law enforcement officers investigated the threat.
Fortunately, it was “unfounded,” Balaban said. Students and staff members returned to school around 3:30 p.m. Classrooms were filled and activities resumed. Parents picked up their kids at normal time.
“Everything is normal,” the CEO said.
The call to Barrack was one of many “telephonic threats” across the United States on Wednesday, Balaban added. They went into schools and institutions in Florida, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Two of the calls threatened Jewish high schools but non-Jewish institutions also received calls.
The nature of the threat is still being investigated, according to Balaban. But the cadence of the calls “seemed to indicate” that they “came from the same source,” the CEO said.
Even though non-Jewish institutions were also targeted, the Jewish Federation leader still put the situation into the category of antisemitism.
“Yesterday’s threat is symbolic of what many of us in the Jewish community have felt for quite some time,” he said. “The rising of antisemitism throughout the United States. The mainstreaming of hatred. And it’s intolerable.”
Jewish organizations are spending millions of dollars per year on security, according to the Federation CEO. But they would prefer to spend it on “opportunities for growth,” he said.
The Federation’s local strategy, though, remains the same. Work with county and state officials to make resources available to religious institutions, like the Nonprofit Security Grant Program that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf just extended until 2029. Use the Secure Community Network, operated by the Jewish Federations of North America, to stay up to date on potential situations and situations as they unfold. And train local organizations, like synagogues, so that they know what to do in those situations.
“Unfortunately this issue of the rise of hate is bigger than any one organization or community,” Balaban said. “And we need to pull everyone together.” JE