One parent’s story of enduring a bomb threat at a Jewish day school

“I wish I could say that I was surprised or shocked, but I was not.”

Children at a Jewish day school in 2014. CREDIT: AP/Paul Sancya
Children at a Jewish day school in 2014. CREDIT: AP/Paul Sancya

When Alison Levy sat down to watch her child perform on Monday, she readied herself for a festive affair. She was at her 10-year-old daughter’s Jewish day school to see her participate in a celebration of Adar, the Jewish month traditionally centered around the scriptural story of Esther. The often humorous tale describes how one woman managed to save her people from an anti-Semitic king.

But soon after the show began, an administrator abruptly halted the performance to make a chilling announcement: the school had received an ominous phone call from someone claiming to have planted a bomb in the building. It was time to evacuate.

Alarmed, Levy frantically scoured the room for her daughter.

“I’d be lying if I said that neither of us were scared,” she said. “I wish I could say that I was surprised or shocked, but I was not — I guess they finally got around to the Jewish day schools.”

“I’d be lying if I said that neither of us were scared,” she said. “I wish I could say that I was surprised or shocked, but I was not.”

The facility was one of 21 Jewish Community Centers (JCC) and day schools that endured bomb threats on Monday, a harrowing experience for hundreds of students and parents. It’s also becoming unsettlingly—and increasingly—common: since January, nearly 100 bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers. Most of the incidents were directed at JCCs, but the most recent wave — the fifth so far this year — also included threats against schools.

The incidents have become so constant that Levy asked ThinkProgress not to name her child’s day school, citing fears that it could be targeted again in the future. Other parents voiced similar concerns to ThinkProgress, with all but Levy declining to make their stories public out of an abundance of caution.

The scene at Levy’s school mirrored accounts from other parts of the country. Once she spotted her daughter, she said the two clasped hands and filed out of the building, surrounded by throngs of parents and teachers working to keep students distracted and calm. The gaggle remained outside as police combed the halls for bombs, waiting for the “all clear” signal. When no explosives were found (all of the bomb threats have been hoaxes thus far) the children were allowed to reenter the school where they were given time to process the incident with staff.

But when her daughter returned home Monday night, Levy said, hard conversations remained.

“People want to scare us sometimes,” Levy told her. “But hate doesn’t win.”

“My children are learning anti-Semitism first hand here, in America,” she said, sighing. “That is just sad to me.”

Levy noted that her military family has lived all over the world, sometimes in towns where they made up “50 percent of the Jewish community.” Despite her travels, she has never encountered anything like the hatred she saw on Monday.

“My children are learning anti-Semitism first hand here, in America,” she said, sighing. “That is just sad to me.”

The spate of bomb threats, combined with a number of other anti-Semitic incidents, eventually rose to the level of political debate last month when President Donald Trump declined to denounce the attacks on three separate occasions in one week. Jewish groups mounted pressure on the president to address the issue, noting that anti-Semitic acts appear to have increased during his campaign and after his election.

Trump eventually condemned anti-Semitism twice — most recently during his address to Congress. But Levy echoed Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League that have called on him to do more.

“[Trump’s remarks] are necessary but insufficient,” she said. “It’s very easy to say we can’t have this anymore, but I need to see a plan in place. I want concrete steps. I would like to see them put into action.”

“[Trump’s remarks] are necessary but insufficient,” she said.

Indeed, hate incidents appear to be on the rise across the country, with Jews disproportionately impacted. A Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia was desecrated this past weekend — the second gravesite incident in a week — and the window of an Indiana synagogue was shot out with a gun blast on Wednesday. ThinkProgress tracked 70 instances of anti-Jewish hatred between November 9 and February 20 alone.

Yet Levy said she has also seen a rise in solidarity against vitriol. She pointed to examples of Islamic groups raising funds to aid the vandalized Jewish cemeteries, and Jewish groups taking donations to help rebuild mosques damaged by fire.

“There is just an incredible amount of support we have received,” she said.

As disquieting as the bomb threats were, Levy said they’ve done little to dampen the spirit of the Jews they target — or shatter their solidarity with other victims of hate. She recalled that as children waited for the all-clear signal to reenter the school that day, they were kept occupied by a guitar-wielding rabbi who led them in a rendition of “Salaam.” The children sang the lyrics in Hebrew and Arabic, belting out a spiritual call for peace:

Peace will come upon us

Peace will come upon us

Peace will come upon us

and on everyone.

Salaam

On us and on everyone

Salaam, Salaam

“Our nerves might have been shaken, but our resolve is not,” Levy said. “We’ve survived before. We’ll do it again.”

This article was updated to include the specific version of the song the children sang.