South Jersey Jewish Center threatened along with others around country
CHERRY HILL — A South Jersey Jewish center is among at least six around the country that received threats on Monday.
The Katz Jewish Community Center reported on its Facebook page it received a threat on the phone on Monday morning and the center was evacuated. JCC centers in Tenafly and on Staten Island also received threats on Monday, along with 11 other centers in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia, according to the JCC Association of North America.
The center reopened around 12:30 p.m., according to Cherry Hill Police.
Les Cohen, executive director of the Katz JCC, said law enforcement responded immediately.
“The building was cleared. We returned to business as usual. Safety and security of our children and other members are our primary concern. We deplore hatred and violence in any form, as we continue to remain vigilant," Cohen said.
Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli said the Camden County bomb squad responded to the threat around 10:40 a.m., along with Cherry Hill Police and Fire departments and the Camden County K-9 unit.
"It's just a shame there's somebody out there doing these types of things. It's not just a threat to the Jewish religion. It's really a threat to all of us and it really undermines some of the strongest tenants of our democracy and society," Cappelli said.
He also said whoever made the threats will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, Cappelli said.
According to its website, the center provides social, recreational, education and health and wellness programming for all ages, abilities, races and religions.
"Every day there's hundreds of people going in-and-out of that center. It's a pillar of the Jewish community in Cherry Hill," Cappelli said.
Jennifer Dubrow Weiss, CEO of Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, said in a statement: "Our centers have in place security protocols to ensure the safety of their program participants, facility visitors, and all staff. I am very proud of the response and professionalism displayed during this occurrence."
Cherry Hill mayor Chuck Cahn said in a statement, "“We are deeply troubled by the events that transpired this morning at the Katz JCC here in Cherry Hill. While the threat was ultimately deemed to be unfounded, I want to make clear that there is absolutely no place for hatred, intimidation, or intolerance of any kind within our community."
The threats come after 100 headstones at the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia had been knocked over and vandalized over the weekend. Police were conducting a criminal mischief-institutional vandalism investigation into that incident.
“Anti-Semitism of this nature should not and must not be allowed to endure in our communities. The Justice Department, Homeland Security, the FBI, and the White House, alongside Congress and local officials, must speak out – and speak out forcefully – against this scourge of anti-Semitism impacting communities across the country," David Posner, director of strategic performance at JCC Association of North America, said.
Posner said including today, there had been 90 threats made to 27 centers in 30 states since January. Those included threats to centers in West Orange and Tenafly. All have turned out to be hoaxes.
A group of 158 congressman, including New Jersey's Rodney Frelinghuysen, Tom MacArthur, Frank Pallone, Bill Pascrell, Albio Sires, and Chris Smith signed a letter urging federal agencies to take "swift action" to address the threats.
"These phone calls have an immediate emotional impact, of course, but they also have an economic impact. JCCs provide a range of educational and community services for Jewish and non-Jewish individuals and families, with a particular focus on children and youth. The individuals who make these calls no doubt recognize that bomb threats, particularly when repeated, can compromise and even destroy a JCC’s financial future," the letter states.
Cherryl Hill police said anyone with information about today's incident should contact them at 856-488-7833.
The Associated Press contributed to this report