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A threat's aftermath: Church opens doors for JCC

Written by Gordon Rago/York Daily Record | Mar 3, 2017 9:02 AM
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A packed Luther Memorial Church on Thursday where residents gathered for a solidarity event, focused on gathering after a recent bomb threat forced the evacuation of the York Jewish Community Center. (Photo: Gordon Rago, York Daily Record)

A night of solidarity was held at Luther Memorial three days after a bomb threat forced the evacuation of the York JCC.

(York) -- Rachel Gelfand had just gotten out of a Monday morning class at Penn State York. The 18-year-old was at a friend's house.

That's when she saw the Facebook post by her Rabbi, Jeffrey Astrachan from Temple Beth Israel: a bomb threat was called in to the Jewish Community Center, just down the road from the temple. Everyone was evacuated. Everyone was safe.

It was the same center where Gelfand used to lead a youth group, went to summer camp and attended carnivals. The same center where her 5-year-old brother was attending pre-school.

"(My friend) held me and I cried," Gelfand said.

Luther Memorial Church held a solidarity event after a recent bomb threat forced the evacuation of the nearby York Jewish Community Center. Wochit

 

Gelfand was one of many who spoke Thursday night during a solidarity-themed event at Luther Memorial Church, which sits across the street from the JCC in York Township.

Like others, she expressed shock that something like bomb threats being called in to the center wasn't unheard of. It was happening across the country. Not in York.

She was joined Thursday by elected officials, police chiefs, county commissioners, and a completely filled church. The group spoke about the initial shock and also of the importance of continuing to stand together. One member of Luther Memorial said the shock of the bomb threat didn't hit her until Tuesday, when she heard about children being carried out of the JCC in blankets, still wet and barefoot from swimming in the pool.

Addressing the crowd, Gelfand offered her own words of wisdom.

"This isn't something we should never believe and hope will never happen to us," Gelfand said speaking to the crowd. "This is something we should ensure will never happen to us."

Practice kindness, she said. Practice love. Change to become more accepting.

One person watching Gelfand speak was Nicole Wagonheim, a Springfield Township resident who is a former member of the JCC and who had previously gone to Temple Beth Israel.

Wagonheim's teenage son is the current president of the same youth group Gelfand used to lead, BBYO. It's housed at the York JCC, she said, and fosters friendships among the Jewish youth.

"I was just so horrified at the news of the threat," she said after Thursday's gathering at Luther Memorial.

Similar threats had been called in to centers along the East Coast. The FBI was investigating, and a local police chief in York County said his department had forwarded everything to federal investigators.

So far, there's been no word of arrests or who made the threatening phone call.

For that reason, it's been all the more difficult for local residents to find closure.

"It's hard to come to terms with it when you don't know where the threat is coming from," Wagonheim said.

Many local officials attended Thursday's event. Congressman Scott Perry spoke, reiterating to the crowd that he had asked the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the bomb threats as acts of domestic terrorism.

State Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, who represents a district that includes the York JCC, called the threats unacceptable and said they must not be tolerated.

She said she would be forming legislation in Harrisburg that would strive to educate people about "understanding and appreciating all people."

"We cannot be defined by these acts," she said.

Rabbi Astrachan had pointed words about the wave of threats not only to JCCs but to synagogues, as well as vandalized cemeteries like that in Philadelphia, which, he said, "have shaken us to the core."

But he spoke about how, in the aftermath of some of these threats, leaders in other faiths have helped raise money or pick up the pieces.

"This week we were reminded once again that human beings are capable of reaching unthinkable depths," he said. "This week were reminded once again that human beings are capable of reaching extraordinary heights."

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

 

Published in News, York

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