Minutes after the news broke Friday of the arrest of a suspect in some of the bomb threats against Jewish institutions since January, more than 100 Montgomery County clergy mounted the stage at the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville to show solidarity with the Jewish community.
Another 150 people, including elected officials, joined them. A similar rally was held at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia in Fairfax.
The events were a response to bomb threats called in on Monday to Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville and Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax. They were organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
On Friday, Juan Thompson, 31, was arrested in St. Louis on suspicion of making threats to eight JCCs and the Anti-Defamation League as a means of stalking an ex-romantic partner.
One by one at the Bender JCC, clergy came to the microphone and condemned the threats.
“Truly we are brothers and sisters of one human family,” said the Rev. Mansfield Kaseman, interfaith community liaison for the Montgomery County Office of Community Partnerships.
He said that faith communities have been “in trauma” in recent months because of the bomb threats.
“I have never received such a response,” he said. “Morning, noon and night, I have been dealing with emails, texts, phone calls. People are needing to talk. They are appalled. It’s beyond sadness.”
Elected officials who spoke included Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).
Cardin said he had relayed his concerns about the bomb threats to U.S. Attorney for Maryland Rod Rosenstein, who has been nominated by President Donald Trump to become deputy attorney general.
“Any crime is terrible, and we’re going to go after any criminal that violates the safety of our community, but a hate crime that is motivated by the worst reasons, we’re going to put a special attention to any hate crime that’s committed in our community,” he said.
Van Hollen blamed the dangerous atmosphere on the president.
“I know all of us our concerned that in the White House, you do have someone who once ran a platform that was used for anti-Semitic, racist, neo-Nazi propaganda, and it’s really important that those voices, which are buried in offices in the White House, do not carry the day,” he said.
During the last two months, Jewish community spokespersons have urged Jews to remain calm and go about their lives as normal. But on Friday, Raskin spoke of the emotional toll that the threats have had on children. He urged everyone to “ask a 2nd grader” how they feel about what’s going on.