The JCC of Central New Jersey in Scotch Plains was among a group of JCCs to receive bomb threats on Jan. 18, forcing an evacuation, just nine days after similar threats were received at 16 JCCs across the U.S. and the U.K. According to reports, the Central JCC was one of 25 Jewish institutions threatened on Jan. 18, including the JCC of Middlesex County in Edison.
The Scotch Plains threat came in by telephone shortly after 9 am, according to executive director of the JCC of Central New Jersey, Jennifer Mamlet. “We called local law enforcement and evacuated the building per their guidance,” she said. Evacuees included preschoolers, people in the fitness center, staff, and several seniors who had arrived early for programs. “Thankfully, we do drills all the time and everyone stayed calm. County officers arrived quickly with a canine unit and the made sure the interior and exterior of the building were safe before we re-entered at about 10 am,” said Mamlet.
JCCs included in this second wave of threats, in addition to Scotch Plains and Edison, included Birmingham, Alabama; San Rafael, California; West Hartford and Woodbridge, Connecticut; Miami and Palm Springs Garden, Florida; Newton and Worcester, Massachusetts; Detroit, Michigan; Albany, New York; and Nashville, Tennessee.
The Central JCCA tweeted at 11:42 am, “We are aware of a number of bomb threats at JCCs. Js are working directly w/local authorities to make sure that people & premises are safe.”
“I was incredibly proud of our staff and the way our members responded. Everyone was calm and followed the protocols,” said Mamlet. “This is why we do drills: to be ready to respond. We are grateful that these are only threats.”
Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, said their response, as well as that of the JCC of Middlesex County in Edison, was a result of staff members adhering to security protocol both before and after the threats were received, and cooperation from local authorities.
“Dealing with bomb threats is a matter of institutional and community planning,” said Toporek. “The evacuation efforts this morning in response to bomb threats at the JCC of Middlesex County in Edison and the JCC of Central NJ here in Scotch Plains were efficiently carried out. Police response was quick.”
He said that there will be a Jan. 19 hearing in the Assembly Homeland Security Committee in Trenton for a bill, A4253, which calls for a three-year pilot grant program for non-profits to cover up to $10,000 for the hiring of security personnel. Toporek plans to testify at the hearing in support of the legislation.
In 2016, New Jersey received a total of $4,260,515 in federal non-profit security grants, with the majority, 46 out of 57, awarded to Jewish community institutions, according to Toporek. That number is up significantly from 2011, when New Jersey received $1.8 million.