The first bomb threat was called in to the Park Heights Jewish Community Center at 11:45 a.m. on Jan. 9th, a frigid Monday morning. Danielle Spiro was in St. Louis on business, and her husband was at work in D.C. Their 3-year-old daughter, Eva, however, was at the JCC's Early Childhood Center, along with dozens of other children ranging in age from infant to 4. They were quickly swept from the building and taken to a secret location while Baltimore police scoured the facility.
Think about that for a minute. You're at least an hour's drive or a two-hour flight from your pre-schooler, and someone has threatened to kill her — to blow into bits her precious little body. Someone who has likely never met your child, but hates her nonetheless, hates that she exists. Let that sink in.
Danielle's mother was at the Johns Hopkins cancer center with Danielle's father, who was undergoing chemo treatment for pancreatic cancer. She had to leave her husband's side to attend to her granddaughter, though the girl had been well protected by JCC staff, both from the physical threat and the knowledge of it: The kids thought the outing was an impromptu field trip, and Eva was delighted.
But Danielle was understandably appalled.
"I never in my life thought that I would personally be affected by anti-Semitism. I come from a family that's got Holocaust survivors in it. I have family members who were rescued by the Kindertransport in Germany," she said in an interview. "And suddenly I'm sitting here trying to figure out who's going to pick up my kid to avoid a bomb threat that was made because she's Jewish, because we're Jewish. The fact that my mom had to leave my dad at the chemo pod of Hopkins ... in order to juggle things is remarkable to me. It's remarkable."
Then it happened again, on Jan.18th at Park Heights and, on the same day, at roughly 30 other Jewish organizations across the country. On Monday, The Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC was targeted, along with Jewish schools and community centers in at least 10 others states and Washington D.C. That's on top of the 100 or so headstones that were toppled at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia over the weekend, and the dozens that were vandalized in St. Louis the week before.
Add that to the attacks on immigrants (documented and undocumented), Muslims, LGBTQ people, black and brown people, and a host of others, and it equals a crisis in America.
It's tempting to blame Donald Trump and the rise of the "alt-right" under him. In an article in its quarterly magazine last month, the Southern Law Poverty Center, which tracks U.S. hate crimes and groups, credits the president as being the inspiration for hate-based attacks throughout the United States. Immediately following the election, there was a strong spike in hate violence and harassment in schools, the SPLC said, and the number of hate groups operating in the country grew as Mr. Trump campaigned — from 784 at the end of 2014 to 892 a year later and 917 today (including 18 in Maryland).
There's no doubt that the "America first," register-the-Muslims president, who engaged in anti-Semitic attacks against Daily Show host Jon Stewart in 2013, has emboldened the racists among us. But he's not the root of the disease; his rise to power is a symptom. An undercurrent of violent discrimination has been building globally and within America for years. According to the SPLC's figures, the number of U.S. hate groups has steadily risen from 457 in 1999 to a high of 1,018 in 2011 (even higher than today). There was a downward trend for two years after that, which has since reversed.
Yet it's only now — after the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the subsequent pushback of the Trump machine — that we're taking any regular notice. That's at least in part because recent history has shocked more of us awake, and in part because the incidents appear to be getting worse.
Danielle blames us all for that, and she's got a point. We likely wouldn't have to call on federal officials to investigate or denounce such actions if those of us who know better had called out our neighbors and family members when they made a racist joke or used a slur or dismissed those who were different with a stereotype.
"There's plenty of stuff that's Trump's fault, but this is a long time coming," Danielle said. "To blame it on him is to shirk responsibility for what's been creeping up on us very slowly for quite some time right now. The responsibility really does lie on the individuals to call out hate when they see it in its smallest forms. It's easy to call out a bomb threat and say 'that's hate,' right? 'I disavow hate.' It's harder to stand up when it's more nuanced."
It's time to stand up, folks. Before it's your children they come for.