WHITEFISH BAY - A threatening phone call to the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center on Tuesday, Jan. 31, caused an evacuation of the facility and a heavy police presence on the Whitefish Bay-Fox Point border.
The JCC in Whitefish Bay was one of about a dozen Jewish Community Centers around the country to receive a bomb threat Tuesday morning. The call received by the Whitefish Bay JCC was determined to be not credible, but JCC Chief Operating Officer Jesse Rosen said they erred on the side of caution in evacuating the facility at 10:25 a.m. Streets around the JCC were blockaded, and children at the facility were sent to Cardinal Stritch University and Richards Elementary School for the remainder of the day.
After clearing the premises, Whitefish Bay police and FBI gave the all-clear signal at 2 p.m. The JCC reopened an hour later for swimming classes and other activities.
Jewish community centers across the country have been targeted with threats over the past three weeks, Rosen said, so the Whitefish Bay JCC had been preparing in the event of a security threat.
"The JCC and the members and the partners that make this a special place are bigger than one phone call. We are ready for anything," Rosen said. "We won't let a negative voice fill the air. We focus instead on how one community comes together in peace.
"We choose to vote with our feet — in visits to the fitness center, happy moments in the classroom, and unique connections throughout our programs. We resolve to provide all guests with the safest possible environment — and to open our building every day as an inclusive destination for wellness, education, and community services to all people, of all backgrounds."
Elana Kahn, the director of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation's Jewish Community Relations Council, said the bomb threat is "part of a revived culture of intolerance against 'the other.'" Kahn said the Jewish community will continue to focus on its own security, as well as "stand up for the rights, security and dignity of all targeted people."
"We are part of a broader community where we need to stand up with our allies and stand up for other people when they are targeted, so that we have other people who will stand up with us. I think it's a basic principle of being in a diverse society," she said. "I felt that very strongly today, that we are part of one very diverse community and that we have friends and allies all around us, integrated within us."
JCC Executive Director Mark Shapiro said the response to the incident reminded him "how blessed we are to live in a community of great expertise, active partnership, and limitless support."
"I say often that I am blessed and proud to be the president and CEO of this JCC, and it has never been more true than today — watching this staff, membership, and community come together in strength and confidence," Shapiro said.