I was on vacation last week, in a largely vain attempt to escape the news. So I plugged my feet into the sand on the ocean’s edge, trying to warm up my New England core, but I found myself sinking deeper with each successive wave.
While I was hiding with my feet buried in the sand, an old friend sent me a note. She attached a post from a ‘secret’ Facebook group. It was about a parent pulling a child from a JCC nursery school out of fear from the recent spate of bomb threats. And I found myself surprised. Which is silly, of course. Why should it be surprising that a parent who fears for their child’s safety might put that child in a local secular school, rather than hold their breath each time another evacuation flashes on the screen?
The dictionary.com definition of terrorism is
1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.
2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
So, someone, maybe many someones, is interested in terrorizing the American Jewish community. Of that we can be certain. The bomb threat phone calls are specific, at least one of them promising, “In a short time, a large number of Jews are going to be slaughtered. Their heads are going to [sic] blown off from the shrapnel. There’s a lot of shrapnel. There’s going to be a bloodbath that’s going to take place in a short time.”
With these threats ringing in the ears of administrators, credible or not, nursery schoolers are bundled up, seniors wrap themselves in towels as they evacuate the pool, third graders march out in a line. Because, someone who leaves that kind of message sounds crazy enough that they just might try it, right? Would you want to be the one who ignores the threat when it turns out to be real?
And, just in case you never go to the JCC, and don’t send your kids to day school, there’s a second front to this assault. Graveyards. It’s difficult to put into words exactly what is so terrifying about people knocking over Hebrew engraved headstones in the dark of night. But the look on my husband’s face when he was afraid that one of those graves might belong to his father – I felt surprised at the strength of the impact.
The strangest thing about all of this is the message. What message are any of these criminals, these terrorists, trying to send? Are they even connected? Do they want Jews to stop having separate schools, gyms, cemeteries? Do they, as seems more likely, simply want us to feel constantly just a little bit off-balance, fearful, anxious? To understand that America is a place in which we do not truly belong?
Whatever the motives, the community responses to the cemetery desecrations have been swift and affirming, especially with regard to Jewish-Muslim relations. Beautiful, even.
But when it comes to the bomb threats, there has been little to no concrete response. Granted, righting large pieces of granite is a task that is relatively easy to complete. Responding to threats, things that live in the air and grow in our imaginations, that’s trickier. But if there is one thing the Jewish community used to be able to count on, it was that when we were under attack, Jews would stand together.
Let’s be clear. The longer this goes on, and without concrete and public plans of action, the more concerned parents who will pull their children out of our schools, and most won’t come back when the threat subsides. We need to be acting in crisis mode right now, because honoring our dead is imperative, but targeting our children is the whole thing. We need to do everything we can to reassure parents that we will protect their babies. Because who has time to care about graveyards when our nursery schools are filled with ghosts?
Come on, Jews. Get it together. This is what we’ve been training for. All those years in Hebrew school, in day school, at Jewish camps, in youth groups, at conventions. All that talk of Jewish unity. Stand up and be counted. Demand action from elected representatives. Raise and allocate money for security. Give extra support to families who are on the fence. No more hiding with our feet, and our heads, in the sand.