Sign on the front gate of Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco. (Photo/Gabriel Greschler)
Sign on the front gate of Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco. (Photo/Gabriel Greschler)

Bomb and gun threats called in to JCHS and Kehillah Jewish high schools 

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Phoned-in threats targeted two Bay Area Jewish high schools Thursday, leading to an all-school evacuation at one.

A bomb threat was called into Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto, while Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco received a call from the same number threatening the school and mentioning a firearm.

Rafael Brinner
Rafael Brinner

The threats came amid a wave of threats targeting schools nationally over the past week, not all of them made against Jewish schools, according to Rafael Brinner, director of community security for the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and a former Department of Homeland Security field representative.

“Typically these are non-credible threats, but every call should be assessed on its own merits,” Brinner said. “In the case of these two schools [JCHS and Kehillah], the calls were made a minute apart, suggesting the same person is making multiple threats.”

Around 2:54 p.m., according to police, Kehillah administrative staff called 911 to report having just received a bomb threat.

The call came from a Wisconsin number, school officials told J.

The school entered its emergency protocol and the building was immediately evacuated, according to head of school Daisy Pellant, addressing the matter in an email to the Kehillah community. Police responded within minutes of the call, cordoned off the school and searched the building with a bomb-sniffing dog, determining the threat was unsubstantiated, Pellant wrote. Parents were notified and the building received an all-clear at 4:25 p.m.

Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto
Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto

About 250 students and staff were evacuated, according to officials. The school postponed all homework and in-class assignments scheduled for the next day. In a press release, the Palo Alto Police Department said it was investigating the incident, and officers described the suspect as an “unknown adult male.”

Palo Alto police were not aware at the time of the threat to JCHS, Lt. Brian Philip said. Officers have been in touch with FBI agents, who will continue the investigation and determine if the incidents are linked, Philip said.

“It is not uncommon that there’s several threats made to similar institutions,” he said.

Portait of DDaisy Pellant, the new head of Kehillah School. She is 52, has red hair and glasses.
Daisy Pellant, new Head of Kehillah Jewish High School as of July 1, 2020.

“We would like to thank the Palo Alto police for their immediate and thorough response and to our parent body for their calm during what was understandably an upsetting experience,” Pellant said in the statement to the school community. “Our faculty and students responded in an exemplary fashion. They have every reason to be proud of themselves.”

At 3:14 p.m., San Francisco police officers said they responded to JCHS, a day school with a student body of just under 200, after receiving a call about an unknown suspect “threatening violence against the school,” SFPD spokesperson Adam Lobsinger told J. in an email.

SFPD searched the school and the surrounding area before referring the incident to its investigations unit.

Rabbi Howard Ruben
Rabbi Howard Jacoby Ruben

“From time to time JCHS has received anonymous phone calls similar to those received in recent years by public schools, independent schools, community centers, and colleges and universities,” Rabbi Howard Jacoby Ruben, head of JCHS, said in a statement sent to J. “We are grateful for the support of Jewish Community Federation’s regional security advisors and SFPD for assessing each call on its merits and carefully guiding our response.”

Brinner, the security representative, told J. that law enforcement experts are noting an upward trend of threats either phoned in, emailed or posted online to institutions of various stripes over the past few years.

“There’s been a broader wave of calls against schools, and last year JCCs,” Brinner said, a wave that included an emailed threat to the JCC San Francisco in May, prompting an evacuation. In 2020, the S.F. center was one of more than 50 JCCs to receive bomb threats officials characterized as “vague.”

HBCUs, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, have also been affected — threats peaked in January and February of last year, when at least 57 schools received threats via calls, emails and online posts, according to CNN. In November the FBI identified an unnamed minor believed to be responsible for making dozens of racist threats.

In addition to contacting law enforcement in the event of a threat, Brinner also recommended that Jewish institutions notify Jewish community security experts, either with the national Secure Community Network or the Federation’s security team at [email protected]. The Federation can help facilitate security trainings and provide other resources to local institutions.

Emma Goss, Lillian Ilsley-Greene and Gabe Stutman contributed to this report.