State College police ‘proactive’ amid threats against Jewish community centers nationwide

On Monday, Jewish community centers and schools in 11 states received bomb threats. Over the weekend, dozens of headstones in a predominantly Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia were vandalized.

While no such incidents or threats have been reported in the State College area recently, police are “trying to be very proactive,” said Adam Salyards, community relations officer with the State College Police Department.

“Though we are well aware of the reports (around the country), I do not think that our members are particularly frightened in State College. We have a wonderful community of tolerant and respectful people — with a long tradition of mutual respect among the different religions and ethnic groups. Our congregation has been very involved for decades in the community, and we feel very much a part of it,” Rabbi David Ostrich, of Congregation Brit Shalom, said in an email.

The police department is keeping in touch with the congregation about security protocols and making sure its door is open in case any kind of problem arises, Salyards said.

“We know that it’s an issue that’s been ongoing across the nation unfortunately,” Salyards said. “So we want to make sure if there are any issues here that we are on top of it, and we want the Jewish community to know that we are going to take any threats or acts against them very seriously and provide our full resources.”

Ostrich said the congregation is generally concerned about security these days, but that they’re conducting services and programs as usual.

“We have an excellent relationship with the local police and borough and trust them to help keep us secure,” he said.

In addition to working with local FBI, Salyards said the department is staying on top of threats happening nationally and asking its officers to be more vigilant around the Jewish community centers in town.

“The behavior that we’re seeing across the country and here in Pennsylvania is not acceptable,” Salyards said.

Penn State has faced challenges in the past. At a largely Jewish fraternity in November 2013, vandals spray-painted anti-Semitic slogans and swastikas on a dozen cars.

Rabbi Nosson Meretsky, co-director of Chabad of Penn State, said the organization recently met with Penn State police to go over procedures for a possible bomb threat or other security issues.

He and his wife, Sarah, are also available as a resource 24/7 to Penn State’s Jewish students, as are another couple, Rabbi Hershy and Miri Gourarie, Meretsky said.

“We really do think of ourselves as a home away from home, and ... if any students do feel they need to talk to somebody or need help with really anything, we’re there for them,” Meretsky said.

Finding ways for students to connect to their faith — like going to a Shabbat meal or placing a mezuzah on their doors — and do one more good deed could be extremely helpful in the country’s current climate, he said.

“Light a light — that pushes away the darkness,” Meretsky said.

“Anti-Semitism is just one more unfortunate form of prejudice and intolerance, and our goal as Jewish Americans is to work for understanding and mutual respect among all groups and across all lines of division,” Ostrich said. “Other than commonsense security precautions, our best strategy is to work for a just and compassionate and understanding society.”

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @SarahRafacz