Midstate JCC's receive bomb threats

Written by Emily Previti, Keystone Crossroads Reporter | Feb 28, 2017 5:30 AM

The York Jewish Community Center's Holocaust Memorial sculpture, "The Six Million," faces the main entrance in the building's lobby. It was designed by Maryland-based sculptor Don Briddell. (Photo credit: York JCC)

Jewish Community Centers nationwide have received bomb threats in recent weeks. On Monday, it happened again at more than a dozen JCC locations, including York and Harrisburg, temporarily displacing hundreds of people.

Late in the morning, JCC's in Harrisburg and York got phone calls saying there was a bomb in the building. Hundreds of people (about 200 Harrisburg and 500 in York), including many children and senior citizens, were evacuated. Police searched the facilities for about two hours, before clearing them for return.

"It was a hoax, and when you hear that word, you think, 'OK, no big deal,'" says the York site's director of community engagement and diversity Melissa Plotkin. "Given what's been going on with other JCC's for last several weeks, we took it seriously. We'll continue to take it seriously, should it happen again."

York JCC staff and local law enforcement had met recently to review security procedures in light of the rash of bomb threats called into JCC's across the country.

"Obviously, with all the JCC's receiving these calls, we wanted to make sure that we were fully prepared, which we were," Plotkin said.

Jennifer Ross, who heads the Harrisburg JCC, has been in her position less than a year, but says some of coworkers have been there for decades and don't recall anything like this happening before.

The JCC Association of North America says sites in Philadelphia, New Jersey and elsewhere got similar threats on Monday, as have many more chapters nationwide since the beginning of the year.

Monday's incidents, along with the desecration of graves at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia over the weekend, prompted Governor Tom Wolf and other elected officials to denounce them as anti-Semitic and commit to helping local law enforcement investigate.

Plotkin  and Ross also note the threats have disrupted entire communities because the centers serve everyone, regardless of religion.

Both midstate chapters host aquatic and fitness centers, for example, as well as childcare and early learning programs.

"Ninety percent of our staff and most of our members are not Jewish," Plotkin says.

Harrisburg city officials didn't respond to requests for further comment.

York Area Regional police declined an interview, deferring to a press release posted online.

The anonymous call was placed to the York JCC by someone with what sounded like a robotic male voice, and multiple law enforcement agencies are continuing to investigate, according to the statement.

Published in Harrisburg, News, York

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