Broward County

Fifth wave of bomb scares across South Florida, nation, rattle Jewish community

Kim Rosenfeld stands near her car that was vandalized on Prairie Avenue in Miami Beach on Sunday.
Kim Rosenfeld stands near her car that was vandalized on Prairie Avenue in Miami Beach on Sunday. pfarrell@miamiherald.com

In what’s becoming a familiar scene, police dogs were rushed into a school in Davie on Monday and hundreds of children and adults evacuated after someone called in yet another bomb threat to a Jewish institution.

The bogus 9 a.m. scare at the David Posnack Jewish Day School was just the latest bomb threat in the first two months of 2017, a span in which as many as 90 have been made at centers, schools and organizations across the country. On Monday alone, the Anti-Defamation League said 20 were placed in a dozen statesthe fifth time this year that multiple Jewish institutions have received bomb scares on a single day.

Davie Police deemed Monday’s scare, which also caused the evacuation of a community center and the Jewish Federation of Broward County, “not credible.” Threats elsewhere were also debunked.

These crimes amount to nothing short of domestic terrorism

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston

Still, the rash of bomb threats —reportedly made through the help of technology that distorts the callers’ voices and phone numbers— amplified warnings that anti-Semitic acts are on the rise this year, and increased pressure on President Donald Trump’s administration to aggressively target what some are referring to as an “explosion” of possible hate crimes.

“I’m here today to channel my anger, so that we can make sure that first and foremost we find these bastards and we make sure that we don’t rest, and there is nowhere that they think they can hide that we won’t hunt them down and find them,” an emotional Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, said Monday morning. “These crimes amount to nothing short of domestic terrorism.”

Trump has taken heat for not speaking out loudly enough against anti-Semitic acts, and for leading a divisive campaign that critics like Wasserman Schultz feel emboldened radicals on the fringe. But federal authorities spoke out strongly Monday.

The U.S. Justice Department and FBI declined to discuss the bomb threats and whether they’re coordinated, but issued a joint statement announcing a civil-rights investigation. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer condemned “anti-Semitic and hateful acts” during a press briefing, echoing similar statements over the last week from Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the wake of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in Missouri and Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, members of Congress, including Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, announced they’re re-launching a bipartisan task force combating anti-Semitism as FBI figures show anti-Semitic offenses are once again on the rise.

The escalation in the widespread bomb threats around the nation is definitely different than anything we’ve seen before

Yael Hershfield, Florida Interim Regional Director for the Anti-Defamation League

But Jewish leaders said Monday that they want actions, not words. And while statistics suggest recent documented incidents of anti-Semitism remain far below a 2006 peak, many have been rattled by an undeniable uptick in the new year that the ADL says is continuing at an alarming pace.

“The escalation in the widespread bomb threats around the nation is definitely different than anything we’ve seen before,” said Yael Hershfield, Florida Interim Regional Director for the Anti-Defamation League.

Members of our community must see swift and concerted action from federal officials to identify and capture the perpetrator or perpetrators who are trying to instill anxiety and fear in our communities

David Posner, director of strategic performance at JCC Association of North America

Many of the threats have been aimed at Jewish day schools and also at community centers (which are open to people regardless of faith). In a statement, the JCC Association of North America demanded “swift and concerted action from federal officials.”

In Davie, nervous parents received phone calls and text messages Monday morning and rushed to a church and Walgreens near the Posnack Day School to pick up their children after the K-12 institution was evacuated. Elliot Zvi, whose son and daughter attend the school, parked his car nearby and walked to the church.

He said wasn’t too concerned about there actually being a bomb on campus, but acknowledged that it’s hard not to worry a little given the sudden rash of threats.

“I have to kind of worry about that every day,” he said Monday afternoon after picking up his kids.

The incident is the fifth this year in South Florida, following bomb threats in downtown Miami, Kendall and twice on Miami Beach. On Monday, centers in Delaware, New York, Alabama, New Jersey, and other states received bomb threats, according to media reports.

“These anti-Semitic incidents are deeply unsettling to the Jewish community, causing fear and anxiety, intended to interfere with day-to-day life,” Michael Balaban, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Broward County.

Wasserman Schultz, whose district includes the Posnack day school, said the same thing Monday morning during a press conference that was called prior to the day’s bomb threats in order to discuss anti-Semitism. She was joined by Jonathan Berkun, the rabbi of the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center, which according to the FBI was the subject of a planned terror attack last year.

“This recent wave of anti-Semitism can not be allowed to become a new normal,” Berkun said.

Miami Beach detectives are investigating after receiving reports that there were swastikas left on several cars not far from the Bayshore Municipal Golf Course, police confirmed.

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