This story was originally published in The Dayton Jewish Observer.
With more than 300 people praying in Temple Israel’s Great Hall on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Dayton police cruisers converged to block the congregation’s main entrance at about 11:30 a.m. because of a swatting threat. Jewish new year services continued uninterrupted with no incidents through their scheduled 1 p.m. conclusion.
“Someone called the national suicide hotline at 988 and reported that they were going to commit suicide, and they were going to take as many Jews at Temple Israel in Dayton with them,” Suzanne Shaw, Temple Israel’s executive director, told The Observer about the Sept. 16 threat.
Swatting calls aim to cause disruption and trigger a large-scale police response.
Shaw said law enforcement traced the swatting call to Washington, D.C. and notified the D.C. police. Dayton’s police, Shaw said, “ended up coming here in force.”
“We had four or five cruisers blocking the entrance for a while and they ended up leaving two or three cruisers here for the rest of the day.”
The Anti-Defamation League had already reported 49 bomb threats over two months against synagogues in 13 states prior to the Jewish new year. Security organizations across the United States warned Jewish congregations going into the Rosh Hashanah holiday to be on alert for bomb and swatting threats, and that although no previous case was credible, all threats should be taken seriously.
JTA reported bomb threats at “a number of synagogues across the United States” during the two days of Rosh Hashanah. All the cases were deemed not credible, and no incidents of violence were reported during the holiday weekend.
Even so, at a handful of congregations, Rosh Hashanah services were evacuated or delayed because of the threats. During Rosh Hashanah, the swatting calls broke into public view in at least half a dozen cases. In many cases, the threats have targeted synagogues that livestream their services so the perpetrators can watch the response in real time.
“We generally have a police cruiser at the entranceway,” Shaw said of Dayton’s Temple Israel. “The police go through here, they go through the perimeter and everything else before services, and everything’s locked down at that point. And then we have hired security around the building. And once services start, we just have one door to come in. Everything’s armed. We’re pretty locked down for the High Holidays.”
After Temple Israel’s Sept. 16 service, participants joined in a tashlich ceremony at the bank of the Miami River behind the temple with security and the increased police presence.
“Police responded the way they should, everything was locked down tight, security was out back, and you didn’t know anything about it, and you could continue to worship and not worry about that,” Shaw said.
JTA’s Philissa Cramer contributed to this report.