Online Threats Target Jewish Congregations Resulting in Evacuations, Disruption of Religious Services

Since mid-July, 26 Jewish congregations in 12 states have been targeted with fake bomb threats and other false security “alerts” from anonymous antisemitic trolls. At least two California synagogues interrupted their services to evacuate worshipers in response to phoned-in bomb threats.

Man in a synagogue
Photo by ColdSnowStorm/E+ via Getty Images

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) believes the synagogues are cherry-picked based on their livestreaming of services and events, thus giving the attackers the opportunity to watch their targets react to the perceived dangers in real-time.

Vice president of ADL’s Center on Extremism Oren Segal said that, even as antisemitism directed at Jewish houses of worship has become frequent in recent years, the relentless character of this current campaign “is a level beyond what is normal.”

“This is what happens when individuals coalesce around their hatred of Jews and use technology to try to optimize that,” he said.

“What makes this different is that this is a particular campaign using tools that many of us take for granted but that we can see are weaponized.”

Segal noted that the trolls don’t appear to be connected to any larger antisemitic groups and engage in “lowbrow and classic antisemitism” in their threatening phone calls.

The surge in threats and “swatting”—defined by the ADL as “the deliberate and malicious act of reporting a false crime or emergency to evoke an aggressive response (often a SWAT team) from a law enforcement agency to a target’s residence or place of work to harass and intimidate them”—appears to coincide with many synagogues’ practice of livestreaming their services. Livestreaming began as a means of coping with the pandemic, and has continued as a part of the normal routine for many synagogues since.

One pivotal incident occurred in January 2022 in Colleyville, Texas, when a man brandishing a pistol and screaming epithets interrupted a Sabbath service and took Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of Congregation Beth Israel and three congregants hostage, all on livestream.

While the ADL does not recommend that congregations stop streaming their services, Segal said synagogue officials should be watchful that “bad actors” may exploit those services, especially heading into the High Holidays, a time of year when synagogue attendance is at its peak.

“What makes this different is that this is a particular campaign using tools that many of us take for granted but that we can see are weaponized,” Segal said. “As people go into the High Holidays, it’s just another thing to be concerned about and to be prepared for.”

STAND condemns these antisemitic acts of bigoted harassment, and Scientologists everywhere stand with the Jewish community against all forms of antireligious hate.