BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The Levite Jewish Community Center hosted a town hall on Monday to discuss security at the facility on Montclair Road in the wake of a wave of threats against Jewish Community Centers around the country.
Authorities are still looking for the people behind many of the threats, including the three made to the Birmingham center in recent months.
Already, noticeable changes can be seen at the LJCC, including a Birmingham Police patrol car parked in front of the main entrance, and a mobile surveillance unit from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office that sits in the parking lot.
Many parents who send their children to school at the LJCC came to Monday’s town hall with deep concerns.
“As a Jewish mother, and whose children are Jewish, I never thought my children were going to have to deal with this, especially at such a young age,” said Rebekah Weinberger, who has two children in school at the LJCC. “When I drop them off every day, I have that question in the back of my mind: ‘Am I going get another text saying there’s another bomb threat?'”
Parents believe in the administration of the center but still worry about the safety of their children.
“I trust the teachers and administrators, but when there’s a threat, you just want to hug your child,” said Marissa Grayson, who has a son in preschool at the LJCC and a younger child who will attend in the summer.
Grayson said that since the threats began, her life has changed. She told CBS42 News that she won’t stray too far from the LJCC while her son is in school and her husband is out of town, in fear that she’ll need to pick up her son in the event of another bomb threat.
“This is not normal. The way I live my life is not normal,” Grayson said.
Grayson and other members of the LJCC had the opportunity to ask questions to executive director Betzy Lynch, Birmingham Mayor William Bell, U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer and representatives from local and federal law enforcement agencies.
“We wanted to assure the parents, the employees, the members of the Jewish community, that we are working 24 hours a day to try to catch the culprit who’s doing this,” Bell said. “We don’t know whether it’s someone locally or someone from a national perspective that is doing that.”
A representative from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said that the agency is training the LJCC staff on a new, more diverse set of protocol.
A representative from the FBI said that there is an aggressive, national hate crime investigation taking place to find the people responsible for the threatening phone calls being placed to Jewish Community Centers around the country. He said that the agency still hasn’t found any equipment that’s linked to the calls.
Lynch revealed that the LJCC has done two physical assessments of the building with law enforcement and that changes will be made to make the building more secure. The Birmingham Jewish Federation will soon launch a fundraising effort to help pay for those changes.
Members were asked to be vigilant and report any suspicious sightings to authorities.
“I thought that the discussion was really helpful, and I think it needed to happen,” Grayson said after the town hall. “I don’t think anyone’s going to leave here and suddenly say, ‘I no longer have any fears whatsoever,’ But I can leave here saying I do feel like they are taking the appropriate measures and taking this seriously and really trying to protect those who enter this building.”
Weinberger offered high praise for Lynch, Bell and Palmer after the town hall.
“We’re not going to step down, we’re not going to let these terrorists win, we’re going to stand as a community and fight this,” Weinberger said.