On Wednesday, more than 30 Jewish Community Centers in 17 states received bomb threats, some of which led to evacuations and all of which turned out to be false alarms. These came ten days after a previous round of threats called into 16 JCCs in the Northeast and South. Those earlier threats were prerecorded; this time around most of the calls were live and came from a woman who kept her message brief, according to the JTA. The threats, which some call “telephone terrorism,” are the latest sign of rising anti-semitism around the United States, including a spike in online harassment and hate crimes.
Non-Jews might think of JCCs primarily as sites of cultural and religious programming, but many JCCs also run child care, preschool, and after-school programs. There are nearly 150 locations around the United States, making them the largest network of Jewish early childhood centers in the nation. JCCs are also no strangers to violence, and incidents occurring at JCCs over the last two decades have killed four adults and wounded a number of adults and children.
The JCC where my son attends preschool was not targeted in either of the recent wave of threats. On both occasions, I experienced two simultaneous sets of emotions. First, I felt sympathy for the children who had to endure the visceral stress of leaving the safety of their classrooms and wait outside, confused and cold, while law enforcement confirmed that their campuses were bomb free. Second, I felt grimly vindicated in the knowledge that the new world order, one driven by the blistering nihilism of a blustering narcissist, looks exactly as scary as I thought it would. Unfortunately, this vindication won’t help me figure out how to behave now that the hostility I anticipated is certain.
One way to react, proposed by Kveller’s Jordana Horn after the first wave of threats, is to refuse to be afraid. Horn contextualizes these threats within the Jewish history of persecution, and suggests that fear will compromise a much-needed resistance movement. “The whole world is full of harm and terror and tragedy and violence—shall I not choose to live in it? I will live in it and I will do my best to live as a light and to fight the darkness,” she writes.
It’s a badass approach, one that serves as a much-needed rallying cry for what is looking more and more like an inevitable fight. I envy Horn’s boldness, but I can’t help but be afraid. An image of a baby being pushed in a crib across a parking lot at the Albany JCC terrified me, as did one of children stuck outside in the rain at the Syracuse JCC. So did the rapid-fire emails I received from my son’s school yesterday: the first a quick explainer of the precautions they have in place; the second an announcement that, hey, you know what, we’re going to do a fire drill tomorrow, even though it’s going to rain—with no mention of the threats. Elision is almost always a sign of fear.
For many on the alt-right, the taunts and threats they issue—possibly including the ones aimed at the JCCs—are an elaborate practical joke. But, as the New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum points out in her analysis of the rise of Trump and his fellow reactionaries through the lens of comedy, these jokes aren’t benign. Taunting, as bullies have long known, makes a wily tool of oppression. Should the object of the joke protest the humor, they are written off as uptight and the bully is emboldened. Ignore it and, yep, the bully is still emboldened. More disturbingly, even though a good many of these taunts may be fueled exclusively by hot air, it only takes one wackadoo with a gun who takes them seriously to do damage. People—in this case, children—can get hurt.
I will, of course, keep sending my son to school, but what exactly that act will represent I still don’t know. It will be part resistance, an attempt to hold onto power by continuing to live my life as I have been and not give in to the jokers, benign or otherwise. It will also be, to some degree, an act of willful ignorance. I’ll get through each day and preserve my well-being by ignoring some, and sometimes all, of the looming threats, rather than seeking to overcome them with a steely will. I was prepared to live the next four years dancing this clumsy two-step as a woman in the age of Trump. The recent spate of threats to the JCC has made me realize that I’ll be performing it as a parent, too.