The Bernard Horwich Jewish Community Center and the West Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago recently were targeted with anti-Semitic threats and vandalism, according to media reports.
On April 27, both the JCC and a synagogue in the neighborhood received suspicious letters with Arabic writing that included a white powdery substance and the image of an Islamic radical fighter.
One of the letters went to the Council for Jewish Elderly, which has offices located at the JCC. An office worker at the council opened the letter and immediately notified her supervisor, who notified the police. The fire and police department treated it as a hazardous material situation because of the white powdery substance, which was tested and determined to be baking soda, according to Sgt. Shawn Sisk of the Chicago Police Department.
"If someone sends a letter like that, one of their motivations is to produce a sense of fear," Sisk said. "But this neighborhood is very resilient and has a lot of dedicated community members in it."
After three other Jewish organizations in the suburbs received similar letters, the FBI, Homeland Security and the postal internal police began an investigation, which the FBI is spearheading, Sisk said.
In addition to the letters, two people in the neighborhood were robbed at gunpoint in mid-April, and in December, anti-Semitic graffiti appeared on the garage of Congregation Atereth Yehoshua.
"Our hate crime division is investigating the graffiti," Sisk said. "We haven't had any outbreaks since December."
The police department invited residents to a meeting Tuesday at the JCC to discuss security. The community also arranged for its own security force of off-duty police officers to patrol the 16-block neighborhood on Saturdays and holidays when Orthodox Jews are not allowed to carry cell phones or drive. This effort, however, has not been condoned by the Chicago Police Department because it may "give the residents a false sense of security," according to a story on DNA.com.
Sisk said the JCC has its own security on premises, and the Chicago Police Department has stepped up its security efforts around the JCC in the West Rogers Park neighborhood.
"We keep a very heavy presence in the neighborhood, and the JCC falls into that," he said.
Addie Goodman, chief advancement officer for the JCC, told Club Industry in an email: "Regarding the additional security in the Roger’s Park neighborhood, we understand the concern that prompts this desire for additional security and welcome the choice to use off-duty CPD officers in contrast to a private force, but we remain totally confident in the CPD's commitment and capability to keep our community members and facilities safe."