Big crowd at a vigil for Pittsburgh shooting victims the day after the attack (Photo/Maya Mirsky)
A vigil at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos for victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, Oct. 28, 2018 (Photo/Maya Mirsky)

Los Altos Hills synagogue evacuated after Shabbat services

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A bomb threat targeting Congregation Beth Am forced the evacuation of its Los Altos Hills campus Friday night after leaders got an alert from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department. Officers arrived at the synagogue and conducted safety sweeps, giving the all-clear around 9 p.m., according to a letter sent by clergy and leaders to the Beth Am community just before midnight Friday.

The campus was evacuated “safely and in a calm and orderly fashion, including guest speakers, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and President of J Street Jeremy Ben-Ami,” the letter said. The alert came just as services had ended and people were moving toward oneg (post-service refreshments), it said.

The incident appears to be part of a nationwide bomb-threat campaign that has ramped up since mid-July. More than two dozen synagogues and Jewish organizations in 12 states have received the anonymous, phoned-in threats, according to the Anti-Defamation League, prompting the organization to send email warnings to any potential targets.

Friday’s incident at Beth Am is the second in the Bay Area. On Aug. 11, Temple Beth Torah in Fremont similarly had to evacuate Friday night services after five police officers entered the sanctuary to report a threat.

RELATED: ‘We didn’t expect it to happen to us’: Beth Torah recounts Shabbat bomb scare

“We knew that it was happening,” Beth Torah board president Cheryl Cohen told J. at the time. “We didn’t expect it to happen to us.”

The national campaign is an “ongoing disruption to Jewish prayer services, as well as additional targets, by a group of online trolls who swat and call in fake bomb threats,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s CEO, said in an August press release. “Swatting” refers specifically to 911 calls that report a fictitious crime or emergency to trigger the dispatch of heavily armed police.

Although the threats have so far turned out to be fake, they have succeeded in disrupting services, unsettling congregants and raising concerns about security as the High Holidays approach and synagogues around the country fill up with worshippers.

“As a community, we remain resolute and determined in the face of this act of antisemitic harassment,” the letter from Beth Am said. “Our clergy, staff, Board, and Security Working Group will continue to be in touch with local law enforcement and our community partners, including the Jewish Community Federation, the Anti-Defamation League, and local elected officials. We will continue to update and evaluate all security plans.

“Congregation Beth Am is safe and all services and programs will continue as scheduled, both in person and online,” the letter continued. “Our High Holy Days services will continue as planned — also with increased security presence.… We will continue to update you in the week ahead.”

Sue Barnett

Sue Barnett is managing editor of J. She can be reached at [email protected].