FBI answers concerns in Jewish community after threats

Meeting held Tuesday night at Jacksonville Jewish Center in Mandarin

By Kent Justice - Reporter/11 p.m. anchor , News4Jax.com Staff

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The FBI held a town hall-style meeting Tuesday night in Mandarin to address concerns in the Jewish community after a series of threats were made against Jewish facilities across the country in recent weeks. 

The event at the Jacksonville Jewish Center on Crown Point Road was open to community members of all religious backgrounds. 

More than a hundred people listened as Special Agent in Charge Charles Spencer of the FBI Jacksonville Division spoke on the troubling subject of anti-Semitic threats leveled against a culture, including concerns and the agency's ongoing investigation.

"So why are we here today? Threats to Jewish community centers across the country," Spencer said. "The FBI is investigating this at a national level. This is beyond any one level. This involves all of us." 

After delivering brief comments, Spencer then asked for questions, which were confined to the topic of threats against Jewish facilities. 

"I understand that members of my constituency, people in the Jewish community were worried about all the threats that are coming across the phone and internet. They were scared to come to synagogue. (They) are scared to bring their children to school. So I wanted to let the community know that the FBI had all our law enforcement partners are doing all we can and resolve this so they feel safe," Spencer said.

Rabbi Howard Tilman, who attended the meeting, stressed the importance of the topic that was discussed.

"It's about safety. It's about security. And it's about community. It's about all of us being here for each other, to make sure we can live together, to make sure that we can live in this country and we can practice who we are, we can believe what we want to believe," Tilman said. 

Some of the people who attended believed that they would hear more about the threats, and what's being done to stop them. 

"It wasn't very long, and I do appreciate Agent Spencer and all his colleagues being here tonight, but I was somewhat disappointed. I thought there would be more specificity in terms of what they're doing and what they can do. And I recognize that a lot of things cannot be said, but on the other hand, I thought it was just superficial," Harvey Matoren said. 

Others were discouraged that people from other religions did not attend. 

"I didn't see people from the mosques here. I didn't see too many of the people from the church," Marty Kaufman said. "I found that to be a little upsetting because this affects everybody of all denominations and all faiths."

Despite the criticisms, the people who News4Jax spoke with said they do appreciate the FBI asking for the meeting, and spending the time to try to educate the community on its efforts.

Spencer did refuse to answer certain questions, including one that asked if a group was making the threats in order to make President Donald Trump look bad. 

"We don't do politics at the FBI," Spencer replied. 

The threats are part of a recent wave of anti-Semitic incidents across the United States. Museums, houses of worship, advocacy groups and cemeteries have been targets of bomb threats and vandalism as federal officials work with state and local authorities to find those responsible.

One person has been arrested in connection with a small portion of the calls. The head of police intelligence for New York City said he believes one person is responsible for most of the nationwide calls and the rest are the work of copycats. 

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