Mittleman Jewish Community Center (MJCC) received a bomb threat Monday, March 6th. It was just a matter of time, considering the rash of bomb threats to JCCs and Jewish Academies. Being proactive, the MJCC and Portland Jewish Academy (PJA) administration planned to have an evacuation drill in order to prepare for the possibility that we would receive a bomb threat. The week prior the staff did a walk through of the evacuation route, practicing the shortest routes through the gates that secure our campus. We knew we would need to practice evacuating the student body, including the infants and toddlers from the preschool program. Because I didn’t have a classroom of students I was responsible for, I knew to go directly to the preschool to help evacuate the littlest ones. We had a plan to conduct that drill on the morning of March 6th.
When I first started working at the PJA about 5 years ago, I was initially taken aback when new hires were reassured that the building security was managed by a team that included members of the Portland Police Hate Crimes Bureau and FBI Consultants. Being of privileged WASPy upbringing I had never had my safety at risk on a day to day basis for how I looked or what I believed in, but this level of security was expected and a welcome relief to the Jewish staff and families I worked with. The need for heightened security is not an obvious part of day to day work and while we are reminded “See something, Say something,” I felt no different in this building than any other building I have taught in until early March.
I woke that Monday morning to thick flakes of snow falling and accumulating in a thin blanket on the ground. I knew I would need to dress in layers and wear boots for our drill, but none of the students would be as prepared. At school, the administration mercifully delayed the drill until the temperatures rose and the snow melted. When we got word to begin evacuating, I went straight to the littles. There were plenty of adults to assist the toddlers and a good strategy for moving the infants not yet walking. I cheerfully took the hands of two youngsters as they toddled through the muddy grass. These innocent babes were more than happy to take the hands of a stranger for an exciting adventure around the grounds of the school to a place they had never been before. Were it not for the circumstances, I would have been more able to enjoy their curious expressions and the enjoyment they had checking out the new scenery and tromping through puddles.The drill went off without a hitch.
Thankfully, only the administrators had to deal with a real evacuation later that evening.
Is this the greatness that the new administration promised? It’s hard to believe that we are okay teaching our children to hide in closets and dark corners in order to protect second amendment rights, and now we’ll shepherd them to a safe place because it’s okay to voice your hatred and threaten violence toward people who are different than you. This is not the America I want to raise children in. This is not progress and I fear regression.
I am so grateful for the community of nasty women who have stepped up and stepped forward to take action and make sure the voice of the most vulnerable are heard. May we continue to find ways to live together peacefully and celebrate diversity.
Deirdre O'Brien is a Learning Specialist at the Portland Jewish Academy
Opinions expressed are solely her own and do not reflect the views or opinions of her employer.
Editor's note: In response to several recent anti-Semitic incidents in the Portland Metro area, NWGSDPDX will be making a donation to the Anti- Defamation League https://www.adl.org/