This morning, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and Bender JCC hosted a press conference with remarks from Senators Cardin and Van Hollen; Maryland Representatives John Delaney, Jamie Raskin, and John Sarbanes; Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett; Montgomery County Police Department Assistant Chief Darryl McSwain; Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner; Jewish Federation of Greater Washington CEO Steve Rakitt; and Reverend Mansfield "Kasey" Kaseman, condemning the bomb threats against CESJDS, Gesher Jewish Day School, and organizations nationwide. Rabbi Malkus spoke alongside these esteemed individuals. Please find his remarks below.
This past Monday morning marked the start of the Hebrew month of Adar - a time of happiness in the Jewish calendar. The ancient Jewish sages offered a dictum that mi sh'nikhnas adar marbim b'simha, as the month of Adar begins, our joy increases. And, in fact, that is what was occurring at both of our campuses as students in our Lower School entered the building to song and dance, and students in our high school gathered for an assembly.
That sense of joy was shattered quickly as the Upper School Campus of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School received a threatening phone call warning of a bomb in our facility and promising destruction to Jewish souls. CESJDS is not the first school to receive such a threat and was not the only school or community center affected on Monday. Day schools from coast to coast, along with other Jewish institutions, were targeted with bomb threats.
As you can imagine, this had a significant effect on all those school communities and their students. I want to share the individual impact of the threat that we received with the knowledge that this type of threat has already had a similar impact on over 100 Jewish institutions since January 1st of this year. I also want to acknowledge that other faith groups, including our Muslim friends, have received similar threats.
So what is the disruption when a school receives a bomb threat? Students who had sat down to study the ancient texts of our tradition and others who were learning about gene therapy or trigonometry received an emotional shock that someone wanted to blow up their school simply because it was a Jewish day school. Parents who had begun their workday instantly felt their hearts sink as they received the news that their most precious children were in immediate danger. Faculty and staff were thrust into positions that challenged them to show their students immediate care, demonstrate calmness, and at the same time hold the very real feeling that an explosion might take place. Beyond these feelings, the staff and administration spent countless hours responding to parents, community members, and the media. What should have been the ushering in of a joyous Hebrew month became just the opposite, a feeling of dread that is accompanied by physical threat.
The Hebrew month of Adar has its climax when Jews celebrate the holiday of Purim and read from the Book of Esther. The Book tells the story about the Jews of a country called Persia that are threatened with annihilation because their customs are different than those of the king. Yet, the story becomes turned on its head when the plot of the king's advisor, Haman, is squelched by Esther and Mordechai. The text of the Book of Esther recounts that v'ha-hodesh asher nahafokh l'hem m'yagon l'simha u'm avel l'yom tov, the month was transformed from one of grief and mourning to a time of festive joy and one of light.
I am here to condemn the bomb threat to our school and all of these bomb threats, to call on our local and national authorities to do everything in their power to find the culprits and to bring them to justice, to enable faith communities across the United States to practice their beliefs freely.
I am also here to give thanks. I have personally experienced, and have heard over and over again that our elected officials condemn these acts in the strongest terms and that they are committed to protecting our community and ensuring our free exercise of religion. I have also seen dedicated and professional members of the Rockville and Montgomery County Police Departments respond immediately to the threat at my school. In addition, our school has received an outpouring of support from elected officials, national and local community organizations, and hundreds of emails from concerned citizens across the country – these are all the lights of joy that held us up in a difficult moment and which give me hope that our community and country will move forward from this difficult time. Just as the Jews of Persia turned sorrow into joy, we will turn these threats into safety, security, and unity. We will uphold the values of the United States as a beacon of light in a difficult and sometimes dark world.