main entrance to the Osher Marin JCC
The campus that houses the Osher Marin JCC and Congregation Rodef Sholom. (Photo/file)

Bomb threats leave local JCCs and JCC-goers unfazed

Teachers, administrators and parents at Bay Area JCCs say the recent waves of bomb threats at JCCs around the country are a nuisance but, as mom Debra Guckenheimer said: “I’m not going to let the terrorists determine how I live.”

“Of course I worry about threats — I’m a Jewish mom, and my job is to worry. But I still see JCCs as my home and I’m happy to be involved,” added Guckenheimer, whose 3-year-old son attends a local JCC, though she preferred not to specify which one.

Main sign at Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School
Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School was one of the Jewish institutions targeted in a wave of bomb threats Jan. 18.

“Terrorism’s goal is to make people feel terrorized and to make you change. I learned while living in Israel not to let yourself be changed,” she said.

Some 65 JCCs and Jewish federations around the nation were targeted in three days of bomb threats in January, all of which turned out to be hoaxes. The only Bay Area institutions to receive such calls were the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael and the Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City, both of which were evacuated on Jan. 18 before police gave the all-clear.

After the third wave of threats, the Anti-Defamation League organized local security training sessions in partnership with the FBI to supplement or refine security procedures JCCs already had in place.

“Unfortunately, threats like this are nothing new for the Jewish community,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a news release. “Still, it is vitally important to take these threats seriously and to ensure that every institution is prepared to respond to this type of security emergency.”

Some parents have been scared enough to opt not to send their children to a JCC facility, including one Bay Area resident who wrote on a parenting website: “To be honest, it was one of the three to four reasons that we’ve decided not to enroll our son in a Jewish preschool. … My child has his entire life to deal with anti-Semitism. I want to protect him from it as long as I can.”

But most parents joined teachers and JCC officials in saying the threats were not credible and caused no more than an annoyance.

“Our parents don’t appear to be scared,” said Cyndi Sherman, preschool director at the Addison-Penzak JCC in Los Gatos, which serves 155 children from 18 months to 5 years old. “I don’t think it’s keeping anyone from sending their children to school. Parents are discussing it, expressing disgust rather than fear, and asking: “Why is this happening?”

Of course I worry about threats — I’m a Jewish mom and my job is to worry. But I still see JCCs as my home and I’m happy to be involved.
— Debra Guckenheimer

At the Osher Marin JCC, the evacuation of everyone from preschoolers to gym users was accomplished within a matter of minutes when the center received a bomb threat in mid-January. CEO Judy Wolff-Bolton said in an interview that feedback from parents and JCC patrons about the safety procedures has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Everyone who comes to a JCC in this country right now has some apprehension, and that’s why these [threats] are so disconcerting. But none of our programs have dropped in attendance and we’ve had more inquiries than ever for preschool in the fall,” she said, pointing out that about 2,000 people per day use the JCC’s facilities in San Rafael and Tiburon.

Nate Stein, CEO of the APJCC, had just returned from a national conference of JCC executives, at which the bomb threats were discussed with the FBI. He came back to Los Gatos and reviewed safety procedures with staff members.

“I think the parents feel good that we take it seriously,” Stein said in an interview. “We have not had one family drop membership or pull out of the school. And I have not had any teacher come to me and say they were nervous about it.

“People see it as a nuisance,” he said. “No one I’ve talked to views it as a real threat.”

Stein said the FBI discussed JCCs recording phone calls, and said he’d be happy to comply if law enforcement asks for such cooperation from the APJCC, where security guards have been positioned at the main entrances since the facility moved from San Jose to Los Gatos in 1984.

Stein said it’s only a matter of time before the FBI identifies the caller or callers.

“I think the FBI’s going to catch them,” he said. “I think it’s a person or a small group. The FBI said they’re making great progress in the investigation.”

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Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster is J.'s senior writer. He can be reached at rob@jweekly.com.