“I got an automated [robocall] from day care and my mind went blank,” said Kate Shaffer, whose 2 ½ year old daughter is in the ECC on everyday – except Wednesdays. “I wasn’t sure why they were calling because I knew she wasn’t there. Never in a million years did I think it would be that message.”
Unfortunately, Minnesotans weren’t in this alone: The Secure Community Network reported that at least 30 JCCs in 17 states across the country received threats on Jan. 18. Nine days earlier, 16 JCCs in nine states had received the threats.
What ensued was an evacuation plan that quickly cleared the building, sending the children to a location nearby. Several of the toddlers were carried by older Heilicher students, while other toddlers were reportedly taken from the pool area and carried to the location while wet and in bathing suits.
“I don’t blame them; they had to do what they had to do to get everyone out,” said Ariel Goltzman, whose 19-month-old and 4-year-old are at the ECC. “There’s been nothing else on my mind besides that. There are no words to describe what it is to get a call that your preschoolers and toddlers had to get evacuated.”
Goltzman comes to the situation with more knowledge about the inner-works than most: Her husband, Bryan, is the director of public affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.
“When these threats occurred last week on the east coast, Bryan called and told me about it before the JCC sent out an email,” she said. “I was shaken up and it wasn’t in our area.”
Sarah and Rabbi Avi Olitzky have 7-year-old twins in first grade at Heilicher, and she said that her twins reported to them that all the kids in their class listened.
“In the moment, they were told they have to follow directions, get their coat quickly, and get out,” she said. “And they all listened.”
Shaffer said that the JCC being a potential target crossed her mind when she chose the ECC.
“It seemed very safe. I hate that we have to think of those things,” she said of picking a daycare provider. “It’s so heartbreaking that we live under this shadow.”
Shaffer asks the same question that many in the community are asking themselves: Why?
“People are creating scare moments and I don’t understand what purpose they serve except to say to us ‘you’re under our thumb,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
The Goltzmans had another difficult conversation: what to do on Thursday.
“We can keep them home, but what about Friday? What about next week?” she said. “We trust the system and we’re thankful there was a plan in place. The circumstances were less than ideal but the staff knew what to do.”
Said Shaffer: “Today they showed they are organized and that the staff and teachers know what they’re doing. I believe in the JCC as an amazing community. More than ever, we need to stick together to that belief.”
Olitzky had a similar experience with the day school evacuation.
“I’m thankful. They clearly had a well-identified plan and got everyone out quickly. Mostly I feel thankful that mostly what the kids were saying is that the teachers knew what to do,” she said. “[The kids] knew they were safe because the teachers knew what to do and a plan was in place. I feel horrible and angry that it happened, but I’m thankful to all the adults and systems in place.”