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Jewish day school in Durham receives bomb threat

On Wednesday, The Lerner Jewish Community Day School received an anti-semitic bomb threat. 

On Wednesday, The Lerner Jewish Community Day School received an anti-semitic bomb threat. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Ari Gauss said anti-Semitism was a problem around the country, including at UNC. However, Gauss said there are many college campuses across the country affected by anti-Semitism, but UNC hasn't seen overt anti-Semitic acts. The story has been updated to reflect this. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

A Jewish day school in Durham received an anti-Semitic bomb threat Wednesday, joining a recent wave of anti-Semitic acts across the country. 

The Sandra E. Lerner Jewish Community Day School, which includes a preschool for children over 2 years old and a K-5 elementary school, immediately evacuated and was searched by Durham police and local FBI, who cleared the building to reopen at noon.

Nobody was injured and students were back in school on Thursday.

Hollis Gauss, board president of the Lerner School, said the school didn’t tell students what happened the day of the attack and instead suggested parents have that conversation with their kids. 

The school invited parents to discuss the threat and to ask questions on Thursday, and students gathered for a school-wide prayer service and spoke about what happened with their teachers.

“Kids are really resilient,” Gauss said. “So far, I haven’t heard of any extreme stress or worry in any families.”

The threat against the Lerner School comes in the wake of a rash of bomb threats to Jewish community centers and vandalism at Jewish cemeteries.

According to the Jewish Community Center Association of North America, Jewish community centers have received 68 incidents of bomb threats in 2017, as of last week. Jewish community centers in Asheville and Charlotte reportedly received bomb threats Monday. 

Within the last week, Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia were also vandalized. The unknown perpetrators damaged about 154 headstones in St. Louis and more than 100 headstones in Philadelphia.

Kate Elengold, a law professor at UNC, has a child in the Lerner School preschool program. She said in an email that more people currently feel emboldened to voice their hatred.

The uptick coincided with President Donald Trump's campaign and election, said Ari Gauss, executive director of N.C. Hillel.

“The alt-right — racist, neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic, white supremacists — has become more visible and more vocal over the last several months,” he said.

Ari Gauss said he cannot say whether Trump is an anti-Semite, but he is concerned about the president’s retweeting of images from alt-right sources.

“Thankfully, the President recently denounced the JCC bomb threats, and Vice President Pence volunteered at the desecrated cemetery in St. Louis, but the message from our leaders needs to be consistent and unambiguous,” he said in the email.

Ari Gauss said anti-Semitism has always been a problem. Hillel buildings and Jewish fraternities on campuses around the country have been vandalized, and student government candidates have been deemed unfit because of their Jewish identity, he said.

Ayla Kaufman, a UNC sophomore who teaches at the Lerner School, said she feels accepted on campus. 

"I feel as safe being a Jew at UNC as I did at my JCC, and I'd hate to see that safety and trust undermined in the same way," she said. 

Members of the Jewish community are not letting acts of anti-Semitism shake their faith.

“I can’t speak for the larger Jewish community, but for me, it both reinforces my Jewish identity and reinforces the bridges and connections between communities,” Elengold said.

Jeff Spinner-Halev, a professor in the political science department, said his children attended the Lerner School more than 10 years ago. He said Jewish-Americans are as American as any one else.  

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"It's part of who we are, and we don't want people to tell us not to be that or to threaten us in any way," he said. "We're Jewish, and we're American, and that's how we feel."