high alert

Jewish institutions on edge after Hamas call for worldwide ‘Day of Rage’

At least several Jewish day schools will be closed, out of an abundance of caution

A yeshiva school bus drives through Borough Park on September 12, 2022 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A yeshiva school bus drives through Borough Park on September 12, 2022 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

Jewish institutions around the U.S. are on high alert in response to a widely circulated statement from an official channel associated with Hamas leader Khaled Mashal calling on Muslims worldwide to engage in a “Day of Rage” on Friday and for countries to join Hamas in the battle against Israel. 

In a rare move, several Jewish day schools in two different cities have decided to close on Friday. Children of Israeli diplomats are being urged by Israeli officials not to attend public schools, and Israeli national security officials have urged Israeli expats living abroad to avoid public demonstrations on Friday. 

Amid the vague threat, many security officials are advising Jewish communities to stay vigilant but remain open​​ — while ensuring that security measures are strong. American Jews are divided between a sense of unparalleled fear and a desire not to let their lives be shut down by terrorists. 

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said during a briefing with the local Jewish community on Thursday that there will be a “full, all-out uniform presence” of thousands of New York Police Department officers across the city on Friday, including on the subway system and buses. He emphasized that there is currently no credible threat on New Yorkers. 

“We’re going to make sure that we mobilize all of our resources to ensure that you are safe during this crisis,” Adams, a former NYPD captain, said. NYPD officials who were also on the call said they encourage all Jews to “go about their business” throughout the weekend and that the department would reassess on Monday. They also encouraged synagogue security teams to make sure all cameras in institutions are properly working ahead of Shabbat. 

An NYPD official advised Jewish schools to stay open. “Stand tall, we’re not going to be governed by fear,” he said, adding that the U.S. is not on the same level of heightened security as post-September 11. 

Security professionals emphasize that the reason synagogues and Jewish institutions put security protocols in place is in order to allow Jewish life to flourish, even in difficult times.

“The goal is to remove the fear and anxiety, to have confidence that safety and security protocols that you have in place are sufficient in order to allow you to have that welcoming, opening environment that allows you to practice safely and securely,” said Michael Masters, former chief of staff at the Chicago Police Department and CEO of the Secure Community Network, which advises Jewish organizations on security. 

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement that security will be increased not only in the city, but statewide. “There is currently no intelligence showing any active threats in New York — that is the entire state of New York,” she said. “But in a moment fraught like this, we will continue to exercise elected vigilance and impose measures to deteriorate any potential violence.” New York is home to the largest Jewish population outside of Israel.  

In a separate briefing Thursday for Jewish media, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy echoed that there is not a credible threat at this time. Still, he called this week, particularly Friday, a “time of heightened concern, stress, sorrow and anger.” 

“We are dealing closely with the Israelis… we are working with country and local officials and dealing with our federal agencies, the FBI and state department. While we’re hoping for the best, we’re taking nothing for granted,” Murphy said, noting that New Jersey is home to large Palestinian and Jewish communities. 

Lior Abramov and Itay Glisko, two of the more than 1,200 Israelis killed in Israel in Saturday’s terrorist attack, were residents of New Jersey. A third, Edan Alexander, remains missing.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism said that the call for a day of action came alongside “nonspecific threats by online extremists and antisemites who applaud the violence” but that it is “not aware of any credible threats to Jewish communities in the United States” at this time. 

Max Sevillia, ADL’s senior vice president of national affairs, said that the organization is nevertheless concerned that the violence in Israel may “prompt harassment, vandalism and violence,” against the Jewish community domestically. He added that there’s concern around “antisemitic” rallies celebrating Hamas’ actions and campaigns on college campuses “about dismantling the Zionist presence on campus using very threatening language.”

Sevillia said the ADL has recorded around 35 antisemitic incidents incidents since the war began, 12 directly linked to the conflict. He added that the group has been in consistent contact with federal law enforcement agencies since the conflict began.

Jewish community advocates said that the entire community is on high alert for incidents in the U.S., based on experiences of a significant spike in antisemitic attacks during the 2021 war in Gaza.

“Everybody is feeling this tension in the sphere, and every parent who sends their kid to school is thinking about it,” Karen Paikin Barall, the associate vice president of public affairs and executive director of the advocacy corps at the Jewish Federations of North America, told JI. “From experience, we know what to expect, we are expecting it to happen. So we are preparing for it.”

Jay Tcath, the executive vice president of Chicago’s Jewish United Fund, told JI, “There is unfortunately a constant threat against Jewish communities around the world and in America. We can’t allow those threats and periodic horrific episodes of violence [to] deter us from leading the joyous, safe, Jewish life we’re all entitled to and are invariably blessed to lead.” 

Tcath added that JUF met with Chicago superintendent of police “just last night on this issue, and he reassured us that they’re aware…They are preparing for an increased physical presence at Jewish facilities this weekend.” 

The attacks on Jewish diners in Los Angeles in May 2021 amid the 11-day conflict between Israel and Gaza underscores that “this isn’t theoretical,” said Tyler Gregory, CEO of the Bay Area Jewish Community Relations Council. He is using those incidents as an educational tool with local law enforcement, many of whom “don’t quite understand how international events impact local security,” said Gregory. San Francisco — like many other major metropolitan areas — also faces the additional challenge of a severe police shortage. 

“So it’s not just education,” Gregory noted. “It’s about convincing them that they need to prioritize this with their overstretched department.”

At Stanford Law School, Friday classes were moved online, though administrators said there were no “substantial internal or external threats at this time.”

Nathan Diament, the executive director of public policy for the Orthodox Union, said there has been “a good response from local, state and federal law enforcement, they’re aware of it, they’re acting, and we’re doing everything we can to keep people safe.”

But Jewish community leaders warned that the current level of heightened police patrols is likely not sustainable through an extended, long-term conflict, necessitating greater support from state and federal government to sustain security measures and direct aid to Jewish institutions.

“The level of security we’re now receiving from the police department[s] is not sustainable in the long term,” Barall said.

Jewish community groups are pushing aggressively for Congress to significantly increase funding to the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which provides grants to religious institutions to strengthen their security. ADL, Jewish Federations of North America and OU are asking for an additional $500 million as part of the expected supplemental aid package for Israel. They’re also pushing for significant increases in full-year funding for the program in 2024, at or above their long-standing previous target of $360 million.

“We are currently in a crisis situation. We need the money to happen sooner,” Diament said. “With the House and the appropriations process in the state that it’s in, we need a significant amount of money to go into the supplement — which is presumably going to move faster than the regular [Homeland Security] appropriations bill.”

Sevillia said that ADL is highlighting to lawmakers in its advocacy that antisemitic activity spiked during the 2021 conflict, as well as highlighting increased incidents in Europe since the current conflict began, in addition to the preexisting shortfalls in NSGP funding.

“[Lawmakers] are very concerned, and they’re taking it very seriously,” Sevillia said.

A group of Senate lawmakers, including the leaders of the Appropriations Committee’s homeland security subcommittee, issued a statement earlier this week advocating for additional NSGP funding as part of the supplemental. JI has learned that the Senate and House antisemitism task forces are currently circulating letters with a similar message.

Barall said that the current paralysis in the House — which appears no closer to electing a speaker a day after Republicans nominated Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), who has since withdrawn his bid — led JFNA to focus its efforts first on the Senate, but that House leaders are aware of the Jewish community’s requests and are “ready to go as soon as the speaker is elected.”

As part of the supplemental, groups are pushing for changes in the way that NSGP is administered, given that the program is not ordinarily geared toward rapid response. It generally requires a complicated monthslong application and review process, and funding has previously only been doled out after institutions make expenditures and submit requests for reimbursement.

“The money has to be spent, and then they get reimbursed… which can be a very lengthy process before they start receiving the money back,” Barall said. “So that’s one of the things that we are concerned about, because we know everybody needs the funding now.”

Diament said that the supplemental also could include a short turnaround of a few months for the Department of Homeland Security to grant and allocate funding. Barall said that JFNA is also pushing for some of the restrictions and requirements typically in place for the program to be waived, “to make it easier for everyone to access the funds.”

Barall said that she’s been seeing an unprecedented level of support from political leaders and the grassroots, with elected officials attending rallies and events with Federations across the country. Lawmakers have been going on record at the rallies, she added, in support of increased security funding.

“It’s becoming so effective that the elected officials are calling us, ‘How can we help with security funding? How could we help with Israel?’” she said. “This is a perfect synergy between grassroots and national coordinating efforts and working together. And we’re very proud of it and we hope that it will continue in the future.”

Beyond financial support for Jewish institutions, Diament said it’s important that American leaders continue to speak out and “isolate and marginalize others — whether they be university presidents, media figures or just social media fools — who would try to… somehow rationalize or defend what Hamas has done.”

“[The situation in Israel] is going to put the American Jewish community at a higher risk,” said Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC), the co-chair of the House Bipartisan Task Force For Combating Antisemitism.

She added that this pattern has already been seen on college campuses and that Hillel directors have reached out to her office saying that they’re telling students to stay home and not go to class on Friday out of concern over potential threats.

Others are refusing to change their plans out of fear. A pro-Israel rally organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council and Jewish Federation of Greater Washington slated for Friday in Washington, D.C., will still take place. JCRC of Greater Washington Executive Director Ron Halber told JI, “We are absolutely going forward with the rally and have been assured by the FBI and police departments.”

Halber said he understands “everyone’s gotta make their own decision about what feels right, we are confident that everyone is doing their best job to make sure everyone feels safe and is able to express their solidarity.” Halber added that while some people will be scared to attend the rally due to Hamas’ threat, “some people are going to get motivated.”

“I think we are going to see both. There is a sense of rage in the Jewish community that I have never seen,” Halber continued. “It goes back and forth between grief and rage.” 

Similarly, many Jewish leaders anticipate a larger-than-usual turnout at Shabbat services this weekend.

“I hope we have a great turnout, and I hope everyone is safe,” said Alan Zeichick, board chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix. “We say no credible threats. We never say there’s no danger. There’s always danger.”

In the Bay Area, many synagogues “are repurposing their services as a time for reflection,” said Gregory of the JCRC. “We are expecting dramatically larger turnout at Kabbalat Shabbat across the region than we would normally expect.”

Tori Bergel contributed to this report.

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