LGBTs condemn attacks on Jewish community
by Heather Cassell
Bay Area Jewish LGBTs have condemned the more than 100 anti-Semitic bomb threats that have occurred at Jewish community centers and other places around the country and vow that they won't be deterred from being open and welcoming.
The bomb threats have been made at Jewish community centers and day schools. Additionally, hundreds of headstones have been desecrated at several Jewish cemeteries since the beginning of the year.
One of the most recent incidents occurred March 9 when a bomb threat was called in to the Jewish Community Center in Los Gatos. No device was found during a search.
Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who is Jewish, condemned the threats.
"These despicable attacks on the Jewish community show, yet again, that anti-Semitism is alive and well in our country and around the world," Wiener wrote in an email to the Bay Area Reporter. "The Jewish people are never truly safe, as we have learned the hard way many times over the millennia."
The first wave of threats across the U.S. began January 9. Authorities are treating the threats as hate crimes.
All the bomb threats have been hoaxes, according to law enforcement authorities.
The FBI is investigating.
Locally, the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in Marin and the Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City received bomb threats that forced evacuations on January 18. On February 27, another double bomb threat happened, first at the Anti-Defamation League headquarters in San Francisco and an hour later at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life in Palo Alto.
The Bay Area is North America's fourth largest – and the United States' third largest – Jewish community, according to J. magazine, a local Jewish weekly publication.
Jewish LGBTs make up 8 percent of the Bay Area's LGBT community, according to the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, and Sonoma Counties and the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay's 2010 survey, the most recent available. The overall Bay Area's Jewish population currently is estimated to be 391,500, reported J.
Authorities have made one arrest so far, but do not believe the man is responsible for all of the bomb threats. Juan Thompson, 31, was taken into custody March 3. Thompson is suspected of making eight bomb threats, including the ADL. However, authorities believe Thompson, a St. Louis resident and former journalist who was fired from the Intercept for fabricating sources, was a "copycat" and wasn't involved in any vandalizing of Jewish cemeteries, reported Slate.
No other suspects have been arrested for bomb threats against Jewish institutions.
Interim Rabbi Ted Riter at Congregation Sha'ar Zahav, the LGBT synagogue in San Francisco, told the Bay Area Reporter that he wasn't surprised by the threats, as anti-Semitism was on the rise throughout the election last year. However, he expressed concern about the desecration of Jewish cemeteries.
"Once they started desecrating cemeteries, desecrating a sacred space, that's very real," said Riter, a straight ally. "If you are willing to desecrate a sacred space, I don't know where you stop."
On alert and prepared
The Bay Area's LGBT Jewish community is prepared for the threats, said community leaders and members who, along with allies, have condemned the attacks.
"We were seeing people being much more free with their hate," said Riter, 48, referring to last year's election campaign. "It's certainly increased since the election and even more so since the inauguration."
He noted that it has worried the Jewish LGBT community at the synagogue after a decade of progress.
"It has our community on edge," said Riter. "Our members are feeling the weight of ... our fragile world right now after a period of time when we have felt more and more secure both as Jews and members of the LGBTQ community over the last decade.
"To have it feel like such a huge switch happen so quickly has been very challenging," he added, pointing out that he's seen an increase in attendance since the attacks began as people seek out their community.
However, Elle McCool, a 31-year-old gay woman who is the Jewish values specialist for Club J, an afterschool program at the Oshman Family JCC, told the B.A.R that she feels safer in the Bay Area than she's ever felt growing up in Washington, D.C. and living in Israel and Australia. She wouldn't feel as safe if she wasn't in the Bay Area, she said.
When the bomb threat happened at Oshman February 27, McCool followed the well-prepared emergency instructions along with everyone else as if it was another drill. If anything, the growing anti-Semitism and threats helped her feel closer to her Jewishness and her community, she said.
McCool only hopes non-Jewish people pay attention to the plethora of threats against the Jewish community.
"I almost have more hope for the non-Jewish people to see that anti-Semitism is still very much a real thing and it still exists," said McCool.
The San Francisco Human Rights Commission called the acts "horrendous incidents of unequivocal acts of hatred and anti-Semitism."
"The very foundation of our democracy and system of liberty and justice is compromised when these occurrences go unchallenged and where they are not dealt with immediately and decisively," said the statement. "These attacks on the Jewish community and the desecration of sacred Jewish landmarks are painful reminders of a history of hatred and bigotry that must never be allowed to fester again in a compassionate and socially conscious society."
"We, as a community, must speak out against these attacks in the strongest possible terms and demand that our government stamp them out," he said. "We also must hold Donald Trump and his cronies accountable for opening a Pandora's box of hate that impacts many communities, including our own."
Trump's initial response to the attacks came February 17 during his first news conference since taking office.
"I am the least anti-Semitic person that you've ever seen in your entire life," he said.
He also added that he is the "least racist person."
The Trump administration tweeted a statement from the White House to a NBC News reporter February 20 condemning the attacks on Jewish institutions across the country.
"Hatred and hate-motivated violence of any kind have no place in a country founded on the promise of individual freedom," the statement said. "The president has made it abundantly clear that these actions are unacceptable."
Standing up, speaking out
However, San Francisco's LGBT Jewish community isn't swayed by Trump's comments, which follow his consistent incitement of hatred and his relationships with known racists, white nationalists, and others.
Congregation Sha'ar Zahav is reaching out to others in the community to build and strengthen alliances and giving individual members tools to fight back during these challenging times, said Riter.
He believes that love will win and it's a path of love that the LGBT Jewish community will walk.
"We are going to respond to hate with love and we are going to respond to darkness with light," Riter said. "That's the path that we've always chosen as Jews and that's the path that we will continue as Jews.
"You can try to scare the community and we are going to still do what we know is right," he said, adding that the community will continue to work with refugees and other marginalized communities. "As much as we might personally be under threat as an LGBTQ community and as a Jewish community, we recognize that we are not the only ones who are under threat."
He said the issue was a human one.
"We are increasing our efforts because it's not a Jewish issue. It's not an LGBTQ issue," Riter said. "It's a human issue. It's an American issue."
Congregation Sha'ar Zahav is hosting a free workshop on how to respond to racism and keep the community safe. "Standing Up to Hate: A Workshop on What to do When You Witness Racism" will be facilitated by Renato Almanzor, Ph.D., an expert in organizational psychology, a community organizer, and diversity trainer.
It takes place Sunday, March 19 from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. at 290 Dolores Street. The workshop is open to the public by sliding-scale donations, though no one will be turned away for lack of funds. It is co-sponsored by the First Mennonite Church, the San Francisco Interfaith Council, and Keshet. For more information, contact Adam Pollack at (415) 861-6932 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To register, visit https://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/eventReg?oeidk=a07edr5rtsg6f243a42&oseq=&c=&ch=.