More than 100 Jewish Community Centers in 11 states have been threatened with bomb attacks since January. This is a depressing problem on many levels. Worst of all, it marks a rise in anti-semitism that has also seen incidents of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries. It’s a wave of hatred that could end in violence.
Even now, the evacuations and closures at JCCs resulting from the threats are disrupting the lives of American communities, where JCCs are key centers for community life. Open to all, the centers typically have child care and schools, gymnasiums, and pools as well as a full range of social and educational programs.
Seniors are major JCC beneficiaries. The Jewish Community Center in Edison, NJ, for example, recently sponsored a lecture on living with low vision, emphasizing ways of maintaining independence despite deteriorating eyesight. Water aerobics and other swimming programs for seniors abound at JCCs. In Austin, the Shalom Austin JCC has an exercise class for people with arthritis, an AARP senior driver class, and all sorts of parties. They’ll send a van to pick up folks who need rides. The Bender JCC of Greater Washington is about to screen a Multifaith Film Fest that will appeal to seniors throughout the community, while the Lewis S. Wolk JCC in Rochester, NY, has a senior social group featuring games, sing-alongs, and discussions. There’s also a monthly prostate cancer support group meeting at the Wolk JCC.
When activities such as these are disrupted, seniors suffer and community life is impoverished.
It was good to hear President Trump open Tuesday night’s speech to a joint session of Congress by condemning the JCC and cemetery incidents. Earlier in the day, however, according to the Pennsylvania attorney general, Trump made an ambiguous comment to a meeting of state attorneys general suggesting that the incidents might be “reverse” crimes — carried out by perpetrators trying to make others look bad. Some interpreted this as an attempt to portray Democrats or even members of the Jewish community as responsible, and New York’s Senator Charles Schumer denounced Trump’s remark as “absurd and obscene.”
Let’s hope the authorities solve the crimes affecting JCCs and Jewish cemeteries quickly, before community life in America is further damaged.