TWH — Jewish facilities have been targeted with vandalism and bomb threats in recent weeks, and that has some of their Pagan neighbors on edge even as they stand ready to assist. Hundreds of headstones were damaged in two Jewish cemeteries this month, and 100 bomb threats have been reportedly called into Jewish community centers and temples in the United States and Canada in what’s being called “telephone terrorism.”
It was enough to get a mention by President Trump during his first speech before a joint session of Congress, although those remarks have been criticized for not outlining to plan to stop the attacks.
While most of the bomb threats targeted community centers in the eastern United States, they were located in a total of 33 states as well as two provinces of Canada. The calls may have originated overseas, authorities believe, and used voice-masking technology, as in this example posted online.
No bombs have thus far been found, but federal officials are investigating them as hate crimes. While the threats have caused some participants — 67% of which are not Jewish — to pull their families out of programs, there are also reports of solidarity as neighbors show up to express their support.The Mother Grove Goddess Temple is up the street from the Jewish community center in Asheville, where a bomb threat was received. “We are waiting to hear what they need to feel supported,” said Priestess and Witch Byron Ballard yesterday.
“It’s easy to overwhelm a religious community with outsiders’ good intentions. We’re issuing a statement, of course, and supporting on social media. We are prepared to stand guard but that probably won’t be necessary,” she added, because of the response by local police and FBI agents.
Asheville resident and Pagan Laura LaVoie lives no more than a tenth of a mile away. “When I read the news in our local paper, I was stunned. I don’t want this kind of bomb threat happening anywhere, but when it is right next door to your house, it impacts you a little differently,” she said.
Neither LaVoie nor Ballard believed the threat could have originated locally, an opinion which has since also been shared by law enforcement officials. That doesn’t make it any less unsettling, however.
LaVoie said, “The Pagan community in Asheville as a whole seems to be very out, so of course I have concerns that it could be targeted. But overall, our community is a welcoming one so I don’t imagine it would happen from someone who is a part of Asheville culture.”
On the other side of the country, the Marin Interfaith Council’s name was added to one such statement. Member Aline “Macha” O’Brien said that Congregation Rodof Shalom, a group that is very prominent and active in that council, was one of the centers which was threatened.
O’Brien said, “In the current climate, where certain religions (primarily, of course, Islam and Judaism) are openly or implicitly demonized, it is vital to point out these shared values and to use them as a starting point for addressing the ethical issues entailed in today’s conflicts.
“The issue of the reception of refugees, for instance, touches directly on questions of hospitality and care for the vulnerable that virtually all religious and ethical traditions address.”
Mike Novack is both a member of Covenant of the Goddess and a practicing Jew living in Massachusetts. “You do raise an interesting question about whether folks should get involved in that as Pagans,” he said, but thought that should be answered by those Pagans are who not also Jewish.
Novack went on to say that he wasn’t doing anything differently in the wake of the attacks. “Jews always consider this sort of thing not out of the ordinary. It is only the recent number of events that is unusual so a little more time must elapse before treated as a real increase (if the rate stays high).”
By and large the Muslim and Jewish communities are taking advantage of the attacks to heal breaches between them,” he added. “Jews coming out to help clean up after attacks on Muslims and vice versa.”
To Novack’s last point, $5,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of the telephone terrorist[s] via the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The programming and services offer by Jewish community centers have a reach and variety similar to that found in YMCAs, which is why a majority of members, in some cases, are not Jewish. Nevertheless, they do indeed serve as a social hubs for Jews, some of whom no longer observe the religion but wish to honor their shared cultural heritage.
“It’s a cultural thing, an ancestral heritage,” said Hank Eder, an eclectic Pagan with Jewish ancestry who denounced the attacks. “Acts against any of us, no matter what their faith, are acts against all of us, no less than cutting off some part of yourself in an attempt to hurt another.”
Ballard said that, while she’s waiting to learn how best she can support her neighborhood JCC, she does believe that magical work would be an effective response.
“The proposed Trump action was poorly thought out and ineffectively designed, in my opinion. Plus messy with too many moving parts. But magical working can be very effective. Certainly protective magic can be part of a strong security system, working in tandem with other kinds of security: electronic, security guards, etc.”
The one thing that appears clear is that threats such as these are bringing people together, encouraging them to work for the common cause of protection in solidarity.
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The work of journalist Terence P. Ward was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.