Wednesday, November 9, unfolded very differently at the Jewish Community Center of Middlesex County in Edison than any staff person or member might have envisioned the night before. Thank God the organization was well prepared for the alarming scenario that took place.
Late that morning a staff member checking inquiries received on the JCC website noticed a message with antisemitic content that indicated that there were explosive devices planted somewhere in the building. The staff person immediately brought the messages to the attention of Adam Glinn, chief executive officer of the JCC. Glinn reviewed the messages and saw that they fit the pattern of threatening messages that other JCCs across the country had received in recent months.
Glinn also understood that the JCC in Edison could not take any chances that the threat was not real and promptly initiated the organization’s security protocols, which included contacting the Edison Township police department and the Middlesex County prosecutor’s office, as well as advising the JCC’s director of operations that the building had to be evacuated right away.
According to Glinn, the Edison Township police department arrived promptly, “within three to four minutes,” and they were accompanied by personnel and vehicles from the Edison fire department, the Edison first aid squad and the Middlesex County sheriff’s office. The police came with a canine unit of two bomb-sniffing dogs and the Middlesex County sheriff’s office came with another canine unit.
Glinn estimates that about 200 people were evacuated from the JCC building in the early afternoon, including children in the preschool and child care programs, seniors participating in a health and wellness class, people swimming in the pool or exercising in the fitness room, staff at work and other JCC members on site. After the canine units thoroughly searched the facility and found no indications of explosives, the police gave an “all clear” message and JCC staff and members returned to the building at about 3:30 pm.
Edison Township Deputy Police Chief Robert Dudash told The Jewish Link that this was the first time that the JCC in Edison had received such a threat and that the messages are being investigated by the Edison Township police department, the Middlesex County prosecutor’s office and the New Jersey state police. He said that the investigation is ongoing and they are looking into the origins of these messages, with the intention “to bring to justice” the person(s) who sent them.
Glinn stated that the Edison Township police department and the Middlesex County prosecutor’s office “have always been wonderful partners with us and are very sensitive to our security needs. We have a great relationship with them.” He offered specific praise for the police officers’ awareness that the evacuees included lots of young children and older adults, stating that the officers made a special effort to keep them all both safe and calm.
Dudash praised the “very good working relationship” that the Edison Township police department has with the JCC in Edison and said that they work together year-round on security readiness activities, such as instituting security measures and holding security drills. Glinn also offered praise for the partnership the JCC in Edison has with the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, who he said have been “very helpful to us.” He called his contacts there at the very start of the evacuation and said that they were “really terrific supports.” He credits the Jewish Federation, and their director of security initiatives, Amy Keller, with helping the JCC in Edson to receive regular grants from the federal and state Department of Homeland Security offices, for target hardening and personnel.
Glinn shared that the JCC in Edison is always assessing and upgrading their security system. They have already added more cameras, strobe lights and sirens. They will also be instituting a new physical access control system, with key fobs, to the child care and preschool wing of the building and to other areas.
Responding to the bomb threat at the JCC in Edison, and the state of alert at Jewish institutions in New Jersey the prior week, Edison Mayor Sam Joshi posted this message on his Facebook page on Thursday, November 10: “Recently there has been a rise of Antisemitism and threats of violence in Edison. As Mayor, I want to restate my position that there is absolutely no tolerance for hatred, or discrimination of any kind. We are mobilizing all necessary public safety personnel including uniformed, non-uniformed officers, as well as our K9 units to proactively address these recent threats. Our departments are also working with additional agencies to identify and prosecute the perpetrator(s) to the fullest extent of the law.”
By Harry Glazer