York JCC evacuated in latest spate of threats

Junior Gonzalez

The York JCC was among Jewish centers and schools in 11 states that were targeted Monday in a new wave of bomb threats.

The latest anti-Semitic intimidation comes on the heels of a spate of bomb threats last month and recent vandalism of Jewish cemeteries near Philadelphia and in Missouri.

The JCC Association of North America says Jewish Community Centers and day schools in 11 states received bomb threats on Monday. No bombs were found. It’s the fifth wave of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers and Jewish institutions since January.

The FBI is investigating.

In York County: York Area Regional Police were dispatched to the York Jewish Community Center at 2000 Hollywood Drive in York Township shortly after 10 a.m. Monday. Staff at the center had reported receiving a call from a man with a "robotic voice" who claimed there was a bomb in the building, according to police.

A York Area Regional Police officer directs a motorist outside the York Jewish Community Center after it was evacuated Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. Children in the center's daycare programs were staged at nearby York Suburban High School where parents picked them up.  Bill Kalina photo

The JCC staff evacuated the building, and York Area Regional, assisted by the York County Sheriff's Office, swept the facility using bomb-sniffing dogs. No explosives were found.

York Area Regional Police said the incident remains under investigation.

The center reopened later Monday, with all regular programming and child-care programs resuming as scheduled, according to the to the organization.

The York JCC said it was working with the governor's office, the Justice Department and the FBI as part of an overall investigation into the "hoax" threats that have plagued JCC centers throughout the East Coast, according to a statement.

"As a community, we must continue to work together to combat anti-Semitism in all its forms," the organization said in an email to its members.

York JCC prepared in wake of nationwide threats

Evacuation: During the evacuation, children in the organization's day-care center were taken to York Suburban High School, located across Hollywood Drive from the Spring Garden Township facility, according to a message from the JCC.

Children were released to authorized people with valid photo identification, according to the JCC.

Dekey Tenpa of Spring Garden Township, whose daughter Sahela, 4, attends day care at the center, was running some work errands when she drove by the center and saw the police units.

"I had a moment of panic," she said, before going online to find out what to do next. Moments later she was picking up her daughter at the high school.

Dekey Tenpa of Spring Garden Township and her daughter Sahela, 4, walk to their car at York Suburban High School after the York Jewish Community Center was evacuated Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. Children in the center's daycare programs were staged at the high school. Bill Kalina photo

JCC employees and members had left the area or were sheltered at an off-site location, said Melissa Plotkin, director of community engagement and diversity at the York JCC.

A similar threat reportedly occurred at the JCC in Susquehanna Township in Dauphin County, according to PennLive. Staff and children also were  evacuated at that center. That facility also reopened later Monday, according to the report.

'Reprehensible': Gov. Tom Wolf issued a statement on the spate of incidents, saying in part, “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.”

Wolf’s statement promised that state officials will “not take these threats and acts lightly” and “will offer their full resources toward protecting these institutions and finding those responsible.”

Money being raised to restore vandalized Jewish cemetery

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro sent a letter to prosecutors across the state saying they have the “full assistance and cooperation” of his office to combat the recent threats. Shapiro called the attacks “an affront to the liberties our country and commonwealth were founded to protect.”

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale issued a statement of his own regarding Monday's incidents, stating, "I am beyond angry to learn of widespread reports this morning that Jewish community centers, including those in Harrisburg and York, as well as all across the U.S., are once again the victims of bomb and other threats from what clearly is an organized group of cowardly, anti-Semitic thugs."

In January, the York JCC notified its members of a wave of bomb threats targeting Jewish organizations across the country and reassured the members about the “the security, safety and well-being of everyone on our campus.”

Twenty-seven Jewish Community Centers in 17 states received bomb threats on Jan. 18, according to a news release from the JCC Association of North America. The spate of threats came less than two weeks after more than a dozen centers in nine states received bomb threats.

The JCC Association of North America held an online seminar with Department of Homeland Security officials after the first round of threats on Jan. 9 to outline procedures for managing bomb threats, leaving JCCs “well prepared for the calls” received Wednesday, according to the organization.

The York JCC did not receive any threats in January, and no bombs were found in any of the reported cases.

Outpouring of support: Rabbi Jeffrey Astrachan of Temple Beth Israel in York said that the recent spate of "cowardly attempts to shake the Jewish community" will not succeed.

"I am not shocked," he said, "I am, however, very sad."

Astrachan encouraged members of the community to express their thoughts against the activity. He said that while blatant anti-Semitism has been "kept mostly at bay" over the last 20 years in York, it should never return at any level.

"Not now. Not ever. Not here. Not anywhere," he said in an online post.

Members of York's interfaith community have reached out to Astrachan to offer their support.

"We have built beautiful bridges of solidarity, trust, and understanding with many of the area churches and their faith-leaders," Astrachan said, citing local pastors Lyn Cox, Laura Haupt, David Tietje, Stan Reep, Chris Rodkey and his "partner-in-peace" Rabiya Khan for their "outpouring of support and their genuine offers to assist."

In light of recent events, Astrachan will hold an interfaith gathering at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Luther Memorial Lutheran Church, 1907 Hollywood Drive, to "begin the process of healing."  The service will be open to the public.