Two Jewish schools in the Washington region received bomb threats Monday, disrupting classroom activities and leading police to sweep the campuses in Maryland and Virginia.
The threats were sent to both schools through what seemed to be an automated voice message system, school officials said. Police are investigating.
The calls were received at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Montgomery County and the Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax County after 9 a.m. Gesher administrators evacuated the school as police swept the building for explosives. At the North Bethesda upper campus of Charles E. Smith, students were kept in their classrooms, which is standard procedure for the school, as administrators and police inspected the building and its perimeter.
Dozens of Jewish community centers, schools, synagogues and cemeteries across the country have recently faced hate messages and other discriminatory acts.
Jewish headstones were toppled in cemeteries in Missouri and Pennsylvania in recent weeks. This week, Jewish schools in Florida also have received automated bomb threats.
In all, more than 70 bomb threats have been called in to Jewish institutions since January, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
According to data from the Virginia State Police, anti-Semitic acts are the most common hate crimes motivated by religion in the commonwealth.
“There’s something very wrong in our national climate when hateful individuals feel empowered to threaten our children like this,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) wrote in a statement. “This recent wave of anti-Semitism is cowardly, it’s disgusting, and we must make it clear that we as Virginians unequivocally reject it.”
Rabbi Mitchel Malkus, head of the Charles E. Smith school, said in an interview that recent threats at other schools led his administration to be more vigilant.
“Given what’s been going on around the country, we were very well prepared,” he said. “We knew exactly what to do.”
Malkus said police arrived less than five minutes after the school notified them about the threat.
He said that the perpetrators’ goal appears to have been to “raise tension and anxiety in the community, and unfortunately that’s what happens when you have these threats.”
Malkus noted that dozens of Jewish institutions have had similar experiences.
“There’s been a significant increase in anti-Semitic incidents and threats in the Jewish community over the last year, and I believe that’s directly attributable to the political climate that exists in our country,” Malkus said.
He noted that President Trump last week addressed the recent rise in hate messaging against Jewish groups and condemned the vandalism of Jewish graves.
“I do welcome what the president said,” Malkus said. “He wants to make sure these incidents do not continue. I would like to see more of that in a clearer message.”