A classroom at Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto in 2020. (Photo/Gabriel Sanchez)
A classroom at Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto in 2020. (Photo/Gabriel Sanchez)

Some Bay Area Jewish day schools to close Friday amid security concerns

Updated Oct. 12 at 10:25 p.m.

Three Bay Area Jewish day schools plan to close Friday amid security concerns and following what one head of school described as an “exhausting week.” 

Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City, Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto and South Peninsula Hebrew Day School in Sunnyvale will all be closed Friday, according to school officials.

The closures come amid fears over threats to Jewish institutions following the Hamas massacre of more than 1,200 Israelis on Saturday. A Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, called for those who “teach jihad” to protest on Friday after Israel formally declared war this week. “This is a moment of truth,” he said, Reuters reported Wednesday.

The phrase “Day of Jihad” spread widely on social media, raising concerns that Jewish communities could be targeted. Police in New York City said they will increase their visibility Friday, Deputy Police Commissioner Rebecca Weiner told PIX11. Weiner advised New Yorkers to “go about their daily business” as they would any other day and “stay vigilant, and stay calm.”

Security experts in the Bay Area said they are not aware of “any specific threats” and did not tell schools to close. However, they recommend that the Jewish community as a whole maintain a “heightened state of awareness” and review security protocols. 

“We have been in contact with partners throughout the community to let them know that FBI, SCN, and our contacts in law enforcement are not aware of any specific threats to the Jewish community,” Rafi Brinner, head of security for the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, told J. in an email, referring to the Secure Community Network, a national agency monitoring threats to the Jewish community.

“Given the awful attacks and terrible loss of life in Israel this past week, it’s understandable that parents here are distraught and our community deeply concerned about security,” Brinner added. “Institutions should take the opportunity to ensure local law enforcement is aware of any planned events or if they have concerns. And of course, call 9-1-1 in case of emergency.” 

School leaders said they wrestled with their decisions to close.

“This is not a decision I take lightly,” Adam Eilath, Wornick head of school, wrote in an email to school families informing them of Friday’s closure.

“We’re closing really out of an abundance of caution,” Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, head of school at Hausner, told J. The fact that nearby South Peninsula Hebrew Day School decided to close influenced their decision, he said. “We have a lot of overlapping families,” he said, “especially Israeli families that live in Sunnyvale.”

Parents’ fears influenced the decision as well.

“Our parents have expressed a lot of anxiety and concern about some of the news media, and stuff on social media. “We hesitated to close because we really wanted to do our best to remain open for a lot of reasons — including the desire to keep the educational process in full force,” Lehmann said.

“But when it became clear that a number of our families would probably keep their kids home, it became clear that it made sense.

“The other thing I’d say,” Lehmann added, “is that this war has hit our staff particularly hard. We have a lot of folks with strong ties to Israel, family friends. I think it’s been an exhausting week.”

Meanwhile a San Francisco rally planned for Friday to demand the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza is scheduled to proceed as planned.

Organizers of the Bring Them Home rally scheduled to take place at Civic Center Plaza, said they’ve been in close touch with S.F. police and other security officials. The rally will call attention to the estimated 100 to 150 hostages held in Gaza and ask the international community to do whatever it can to ensure their safe return.  

“Everybody’s going to do what they feel comfortable with, and I am not going to ask anyone to do more than that,” said Offir Gutelzon, co-founder of UnXeptable, a grassroots group of Israeli expats that organized the rally alongside the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area and other Jewish groups. Still, he said, “it’s important for us to be there tomorrow because we are at war.”

UnXeptable’s Facebook page will announce any last-minute changes.

Leslie Katz contributed to this report.

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.