Scare is the word.
Disruption is most accurate.
Inconvenience just doesn’t pair well with bomb. And bomb never pairs with daycare, which is where she was when I got the email with the subject: Bomb Threat.
I knew she was fine, even as I read the two short sentences emailed by the neighborhood group: “There has been a bomb scare at the Jewish Community Center. The building has been evacuated and the police are there.”
My interpretation of the text: “Bomb scare, police, evacuation at the place you left your almost-2-year-old daughter.”
I’d been following the news of the bomb threats at JCC’s across the nation over the last two months. I knew (suspected) there was no bomb.
I’d heard the recording from a previous call-in threat at another JCC. The voice, threatening gore, was hardly discernable and silly even in its violence.
They are called hoaxes.
As I told the soon-to-be-very-worried mother of the email I’d received on my phone while I was working on my Ash Wednesday homily, I could hear in my own voice the non-event of this anti-Semitic inconvenience.
I was imagining, already, the comment section that would follow the local news report online, wondering how many there would be before someone blamed it on Muslims, liberals or the Jews themselves.
(Two, it turns out.)
I pulled on my wool coat, grabbed my keys—the mother somehow suddenly fully suited for the cold—and we headed to our daughter’s daycare, and I anticipated the flashing lights of the police cars parked in the road blocking cars from passing the Jewish Community Center because there was a bomb threat …
—and I was imagining the parents of those kids in Newtown who did not know if it was a hoax—though Alex Jones would cruelly inform them later it was a hoax and some people would call the President of the United States’ tears for the murdered children, “Crocodile”—and I was grateful as I drove to my almost-two-year-old daughter’s daycare that I already knew that my daughter was not in the JCC the police had surrounded, not inside where police dogs were sniffing around the spot she takes her nap from 12:00-2:00 each afternoon, sniffing in the cubbies and cabinets to ensure no bombs were tucked behind the art supplies or kosher snacks . . .
—and I was grateful that I knew she had already been bundled up in her winter coat by a smiling, calm teacher who would have cheerily but urgently rushed her to some previously determined safe location probably before I even saw the email and stopped my writing about ashes—a location that I did not yet know but knew they had previously determined because these bomb scares at Jewish Community Centers have been going on since January . . .
—and I finally saw the flashing lights of the police cars parked in front of the door my wife or I take our toddler through everyday, to leave her and our very own lives and our very relationship in the hands of these caring teachers who, I suspect, know they care not just for this nearly porcelain child but also any possibility of a life for her parents who sign their initials each day, giving the okay for them to hold our raw, beating hearts until 4 o’clock when we return and sign our initials again and they hand us our hearts and our toddler and the paper that tells us what times she peed and pooped and we tell them we will see them tomorrow and our daughter blows everyone kisses good-bye . . .
—and when I see the police calmly posted by their cars and entering and exiting the door we enter each morning at 9:00 a.m. when we die and at 4:00 p.m. when are born again, their nonchalance confirms most of my assumptions about her safety . . .
—and I saw across the street a couple of workers from the JCC sitting on the brick wall behind a nondescript brick office building where I assumed my daughter was, she lacking the words to ask why she was inside this office building rather than her colorful classroom decorated with artwork and children’s handprints, but also lacking the need to wonder such a thing as she was filled with trust for the adults who cared for her . . .
—and they were chatting and they saw us and they knew right away we were parents and one asked, “Here for your child?” (so as to be polite and not let on how apparent the answer already was to them) and, just then, I wanted to cry because I knew they saw us. “Yes. I am.” And thanks be to G-d because I thought of those parents in Newtown who were probably asked the same question by people who knew very well the answer . . .
—and we entered the office building next to your daycare, daughter, and I loved every person who saw us and I wanted to cry as they saw us because they knew we were there to gather our child who was perfectly safe and fine and we knew that before we left the house but we came anyway, and they knew that too, and I wanted to cry because they knew something very personal about me—they knew me almost completely—and they pointed us down the hallways where other people who had been evacuated from the Jewish Community Center sat . ..
—and I saw old ladies wrapped up like Hershey Kisses in foil blankets, trying to cover their bodies and wet one-piece bathing suits and I guessed (when I realized what I was looking at) that they had been doing water aerobics at the Jewish Community Center, and they had to stop when someone told them there was a bomb in the building, and they had probably looked at each other, and said, “Oh my,” and “Oh, no!” and “What a shame,” and “Those poor children” as they slowly made their way through the water to the ladder and pulled themselves out of the warm water into the cold air and searched, quickly, for their towels and slippers and entered the even colder February Pennsylvania air and shuffled in their wet one-piece bathing suits, behind the toddlers holding hands, across the street into the office building where someone brought them these thin, noisy sheets and stale doughnut-holes . . .
—and the old women in their one-piece bathing suits and foil blankets saw us in our wool coats and they knew we were there for you, and to gather ourselves . . .
—and we went up the elevator to the lobby of an office where we could see a conference room down the hall filled with children sitting on the floor around an oval conference table, and the lights were off because they said you all were watching a movie . . .
—and I wrote my name on the sheet of paper below other parents’ names, and I wrote your name next to mine, below the names of the other little children who had already been gathered by their parents, and your teacher came out of the dark room with you in her arms and said to you with excitement, “Look who it is!” and she looked at us almost with tears because her son is also in the daycare, and she knew we were there not because we were worried you were not safe with her but because we needed to have our hearts back in our bodies . . .
—and I noticed, in fact, that you did not have your coat as I had assumed, and I realized they didn’t have time to bundle you and your friends up because someone told them there was a bomb in the building, and they rushed you out the door and into the cold because they knew they had to save you and that you’d be warm again soon enough, and I wanted to cry because I loved them for this and because now you were smiling in your mother’s arms…
—and as we left we walked past your daycare director, Chana, and she told us she would have done the same thing by which she meant that she would have picked up her child too knowing full well she was perfectly safe because of course it was a hoax because she knew we were really picking up ourselves . . .
—and as we exited the office building, we walked past a couple of rabbis, and I told them I was sorry for all this, and one rabbi shrugged and said, “Yeah, well, these are the times we live in,” and I knew what he meant, that this is what it is to live and to live in time, and I wanted to cry because this disruption was something a rabbi could shrug about, and you began to fuss as we walked past the police back to our car because you like your daycare at the Jewish Community Center, and you don’t know what a bomb threat is, and you realized we were taking you away from your friends and teachers, and you wanted to go back to the JCC with your friends and teachers who know the songs you know because they taught them to you, and we don’t know those songs, and when you try to teach them to us so we can sing them with you, you can’t because you don’t know how to talk yet just like you don’t know what a bomb threat is – thank G-d!— but you know these songs and I realize, just then, that there are now things you know that I don’t know, and I want to cry because I know your life is not my life and because I wish that bomb threats and anti-Semitism and racism and violence against children and women could all be things I know that you never have to know . . .
—and we see one of the aids from your daycare smoking behind the building as we leave and she waves at us and yells, “Bye, Lydia!” like it’s any other day and not a day where someone called her work and said there was a bomb inside, and I wanted to cry because she knows your name, and I love her because she loves you on your own, and it was only a scare . . .
—and it happened at 14 other Jewish Community Centers that day.
When we got home, you were not happy. You weren’t ready to come home, and so you were fussy. “No!” you said, as I held you in my arms. You turned your head from me and you wiggled and you did that thing where you pretend to hit me because you are angry. You didn’t want to be held, and you didn’t want to be put down and I said to you, “Lydia Grace, I know you are frustrated and mad. You can be angry but you cannot hit. I know you want to be at school.” You listened to me and stopped squirming. “I want you to be at school too. I’m sorry.” You were sad and angry, and you looked at me right in the eyes, and we stared at each other for probably 30 seconds, and you saw me, and I saw you, and I think you understood, and I wanted to cry. So your mom made popcorn, and you took a nap and then went to the library, and I went to buy new throw pillows.
Photo: Getty Images