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Jewish leaders decry spate of anti-Semitic incidents

Jewish leaders in Greater Boston are expressing deep concern about a spate of anti-Semitic incidents sweeping the country and are calling for a vigorous response from political leaders and law enforcement.

Another wave of bomb threats on Monday targeted Jewish community centers and Jewish day schools, forcing a fresh round of evacuations and a new surge of fear. Some 90 Jewish institutions have been hit by the threats since early January, including the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center in Newton and centers in Worcester, Providence, Portland, and West Hartford, Conn.

The threats came on the heels of a desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia over the weekend. A week before, vandals toppled scores of headstones in a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis.


“The community — and I mean the Jewish community very broadly — is entitled to some answers and information now from our elected officials and from top law enforcement,” said Robert Trestan, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Boston office.

Mark Sokoll, president of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston, said: “Really, the only thing that’s adequate is catching the hate-filled people who are doing this.”

President Trump condemned the threats and other hate crimes Tuesday night in his first address to Congress.

No bombs have been discovered in any of the community centers targeted by the threats, some of which were robocalls, but they have disrupted activities, forcing children to be evacuated from preschools, swimmers from pools, and seniors from classes.

“There’s a real recognition that this is a serious crisis, in that it’s way too easy for a couple of people with a phone and some kind of voice mixer . . . to create widespread disruption and fear,” said Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston.

Rabbi David Lerner, president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, said area synagogues are reviewing security protocols and contemplating whether to divert money to beef up security. Some are considering hiring police details or private security guards.


“It’s troubling, it costs money, and it’s draining psychologically that we have to do this,” he said. “It really speaks to the tenor of the world today, which is very sad and one where we see an increase of hate and intolerance. We have to be more and more active against it.”

Even though the threats have proved false, the long history of the oppression and genocide of the Jewish people is an unforgettable fact.

“Jews live in the shadow of the Holocaust,” said Rabbi Benjamin Samuels of Congregation Shaarei Tefillah in Newton Centre. “It doesn’t define our worldview, but it certainly impinges upon it. And, therefore, we are especially attuned to how quickly hate-speak and vandalism can turn violent and oppressive.”

Taken together, said Rabbi Victor Reinstein of the Nehar Shalom Community Synagogue in Jamaica Plain, the attacks on schools, community centers, and graves amount to “an attack on the living and the dead of the Jewish people.”

Many Jewish leaders said they were comforted by the expressions of support from Muslims, Christians, and others.

“It’s not just what happens, it’s how the country responds to what happens,” said Rabbi Carl Perkins of Temple Aliyah in Needham.

President Trump denounced the threats as “horrible” and “painful” on Feb. 21, long after the first wave of calls in early January, and after rebuffing two reporters’ questions about anti-Semitism and the threats. Vice President Mike Pence condemned the cemetery vandalism during a trip to St. Louis and helped clean it up.


Some of the president’s critics accuse him and his advisers of cultivating an atmosphere that has emboldened hate groups.

The administration’s supporters say Trump and his advisers have been unfairly criticized. Tom Mountain, the director of Jewish outreach for the Trump campaign in New England and a Newton resident, noted that the president’s daughter Ivanka converted after marrying Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew, and their children are Jewish. He said the administration is “the most pro-Israel in history.”

Lisa Wangsness can be reached at