WHITEFISH BAY - In the wake of two bomb threats to the Jewish Community Center, elected officials from both sides of the aisle came to Whitefish Bay on Monday, Feb. 27, to express their support for the local Jewish community.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, state Sen. Alberta Darling, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Whitefish Bay Village President Julie Siegel met with JCC officials and parents to talk about the recent bomb threats. Sen. Ron Johnson and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele sent staff members to the event. Gov. Scott Walker was not able to attend as he was in Washington, D.C.
After talking with families, elected officials joined children and parents in a song session for a Havdalah service separating the end of the Sabbath from the beginning of the week. JCC President Mark Shapiro said the Havdalah was a fitting service, as it marks a turning point from reflection to "getting back to the work in front of us."
"That's what we're focused on here at the JCC — not allowing these non-credible phone calls that we received on Jan. 31 and Feb. 20 to stand in the way of what we do," Shapiro said. "We build community every single day and there's no way that this obstacle will stop us from building the inclusive community of wellness, high-quality education and comprehensive social services that we provide every single day to the community."
Barrett said it is important for elected leaders to step forward at a time like this.
"It is time for the leadership of this nation to try to unite people and not to divide people," he said. "When I say leadership, I'm talking about every single type of leadership in this nation. Not just political leadership. Not just business leadership. Not just community leadership. America right now is facing a challenge unlike any challenge I have seen in my lifetime, a challenge from within. And the challenge is whether we are going to allow ourselves to be divided as a nation or whether we are all Americans."
Baldwin said she stands in support with the JCC in Whitefish Bay, as well as the other JCCs around the country that have been threatened in recent weeks.
"Together we must all speak up against anti-Semitism," she said. "When we turn a blind eye to intolerance and discrimination against any community or any group, we allow the things that fuel hate crimes to go unchecked. We must do more."
Grothman said the JCC "has done so much to reach every individual in the community,"
"To think there are people that would threaten this institution is truly horrible," he said.
Moore said she is going to reach out to the U.S. Attorney General's office to make sure the civil rights division has enough resources to prosecute hate crimes.
"As (Congressman) John Lewis often says, we may have come over here on different boats, but we are all in the same boat when we have terrorist threats against any of us," Moore said. "This will not be tolerated."
Darling said, "the people who are doing these hate crimes — the bullies, the cowards — really are trying to instill fear in us. We will stand with the Jewish community."
Siegel said the threats against the JCC have hit close to home for her family. Her children have participated in JCC programming since they were six months old.
"When this first bomb threat was called in, I felt sick to my stomach," she said. "Listening to the parents, it never goes away. As the parent of Jewish children out in the world, I worry for them every single day. I know we have a group here, and we're going to work together."
Shapiro said the strong support from elected officials felt like "a hug you can't even explain."
"There's not just one person who makes this happen, and there's not just one person who makes it go away," Shapiro said. "We've heard so many calls for unity, and I think this is a great sign of community. It feels absolutely fantastic to know our elected officials — those who are here and those who aren't — support us."