Hundreds of children, teachers and parents were evacuated Monday from two Jewish Community Centers in Miami-Dade and across the eastern U.S. and in England after a series of telephone bomb threats.
In each case, no explosives were found. But the threats rattled nerves for several hours at the 15 JCCs nationwide that received calls Monday, including the Dave & Mary Alper JCC in Kendall and the Miami Beach JCC.
In Florida, the threats began last week.
The Tampa Bay Times reported the Tampa JCC closed early Thursday after phoned-in threats. Last Wednesday, two Jewish centers in Central Florida were evacuated after separate bomb threats. One of the centers includes a community center and Holocaust museum.
In the last week, there have been at least eight threats at Jewish institutions in Florida, said Hava Holzhauer, Florida regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
“I don’t know the reason, but what it does is causes fear in the community,” Holzhauer said. “Regardless of how the threat comes in, it has to be checked out because we don’t know when it’s serious and not serious.”
Holzhauer said it’s a struggle to find a balance between reacting to threats and scaring the community. She referenced the shooting Friday at Fort-Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport as never knowing when terror could strike.
“We have to find a balance between the freedoms we cherish and being smart about security,” she said.
The ADL tracks all threats, Holzhauer said, because “every action begins with an idea.”
“A big piece of fighting hate is tracking the trends,” she said.
Monday’s late-morning local threats, at the Dave and Mary Alper JCC in Kendall and the Miami Beach JCC, came via phone. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said it evacuated 450 kids and 70 people who work at the Alper Center, 11155 SW 112th Ave.
Miami-Dade police and Miami Beach police, respectively, swept each campus before giving the all clear. That came around 12:15 p.m. in Miami Beach, where a woman phoned in the threat and said the JCC at 4221 Pine Tree Dr. needed to be cleared in an hour. Examining the much-larger Alper took until after 1 p.m.
Brenda Moxley, a retired FBI agent who was hired last year by the Greater Miami Jewish Federation to improve its security infrastructure, crisis management and education, said awareness and preparedness “is the best response to security concerns.”
“Security is an important concern sadly because of the world we live in,” she said. “It’s something on everyone’s mind.”
Moxley said Jewish federations across the country created the director of community security position to act as a liaison with local and federal law enforcement and Homeland Security.
Late Monday, the national organization, JCC Association of North America, said it has a partnership with the Secure Community Network, which focuses on security for Jewish institutions throughout North America, and the Department of Homeland Security. The agencies are working together to determine the source of the calls that 15 JCCs received Monday.
“As of 4:30 p.m.today, local authorities’ investigations in areas impacted have resulted in the all-clear, with most of our JCC’s resuming regular operations,’’ David Posner, director of strategic performance at JCC Association of North America, said in a statement. “We are hopeful that all of the JCCs in our vibrant network across the country will resume regular operations by the end of the day.’’
Miami Herald staff writer Charles Rabin contributed to this report.