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Californian Synagogues Part of State-Wide Bomb Threat Hoax

Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek was among a dozen Northern California synagogues known to have been emailed a false bomb threat early Saturday. 

The email was part of a wave of “swatting” incidents and false bomb threats that hit over 200 Jewish congregations and institutions across the U.S. over the weekend, according to the Secure Community Network, which works with the Jewish Federations of North America to coordinate safety for the organized Jewish community. Swatting incidents are hoaxes designed to send heavily armed police to a target location.

Lori Siegel, president and interim executive director of B’nai Tikvah, said the email’s subject line read “Explosives inside of the Synagogue.”

Synagogues in Berkeley, Los Altos Hills, Pleasanton, San Francisco, Redwood City, Davis, Napa, Grass Valley, Carmel, Carmichael and Sacramento were copied on the same email, which was seen by J.

“We knew that we were one of many,” Siegel said. The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department immediately got involved, and Siegel called them “a great partner” in an email to the congregation.

None of the threats were deemed credible after local investigations, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported.

“What was a common occurrence — a few such emails every month in Northern California for the past few years — became a concerted nationwide email blitz this past weekend,” said Rafi Brinner, director of security with the S.F-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, which runs regular security trainings for the region’s synagogues and Jewish organizations.

SCN posted on social media on Monday that it has tallied more than 449 swatting incidents and bomb threats this year. That’s up 541% from 83 incidents in 2022.

Waves of bomb hoaxes have disturbed the peace of synagogues, Jewish day schools and organizations for years, often ramping up around Jewish holidays. But they’ve increased since the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre in Israel, Brinner said.

In swatting attacks, a hoax 911 call is made to local police with a false story such as a hostage situation, which is intended to draw an armed response. Swatting has led to deaths and is considered very dangerous. Bomb threats also create disruption. They often result in an evacuation while police assess the situation.

Brinner pointed to the FBI’s recent arrest of a 13-year-old California boy who is accused of being part of a group that in July and August organized swatting attempts and false bomb threats against Jewish institutions, including at least 25 synagogues in 13 states.

In recent years, lawmakers have worked to boost the amount of grant money available for “target hardening” of synagogues and Jewish organizations to make them less vulnerable.

Siegel said B’nai Tikvah has already received two such grants and has applied for two others.

“Just ensuring our community is safe is our most important priority right now,” she said. 

Source: https://jweekly.com/2023/12/19/bay-area-synagogues-hit-in-wave-of-bomb-threats-across-u-s/