Israel-Hamas War

Synagogues, schools increase security Friday in Chicago area as precautions

Notices were sent out this week to parents, members of the Jewish community and residents in the wake of reports of a so-called "day of mobilization" or a "day of anger"

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Synagogues, schools and other centers in parts of the Chicago area increased security measures Friday amid reports of "increased threats of violence," and though officials said no credible threats have been identified, authorities are paying "special attention."

Notices were sent out this week to parents, members of the Jewish community and residents in the wake of reports of a so-called "day of mobilization" or a "day of anger."

"We are aware of the potential threats to Skokie Synagogues. Our security officers, Wilmette Police, and JUF's security team are not aware of any credible threats," a notice from a school in Wilmette read. "We are on high alert and taking every precaution we can. These are very scary times. The safety of our children and staff are our utmost priority."

Elsewhere in the region, schools and youth centers made scheduling changes, increased security and, in some cases, eliminated outdoor play for children.

"It has been reported to us that there have been threats on social media sites regarding Friday, October 13. We have stayed in constant contact with our local police departments, our security liaisons at JUF and we are staying abreast of all information as it becomes available," a similar notice to parents from a school in Highland Park read.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the state's Emergency Management Agency, Office of Homeland Security and state police "are closely monitoring the conflict in the Middle East and potential threats here in Illinois." The governor said the agencies are "on heightened alert for any threats related to places of worship across the state," but said there have so far been no credible threats in Illinois.

“As Governor of Illinois, it is my top priority to keep our residents safe and we are closely monitoring any potential threats that may arise,” Pritzker said in a statement. “While there are currently no credible threats here in Illinois, my administration is operating with heightened vigilance and working closely with IEMA-OHS and the Illinois State Police to keep people safe. Here in Illinois, we reject those who use violence to instill terror and fear and are committed to ensuring our religious institutions and schools remain safe.”

Chicago police also issued a statement this week saying that it has "no actionable intelligence regarding any credible threats in Chicago at this time," but noted that it is "paying special attention to synagogues and mosques" in the city.

"The Chicago Police Department stands alongside all the innocent victims affected by this heartbreaking and horrific situation. We are closely monitoring this situation alongside our local, state and federal partners and remain in constant communication," the department's statement read, adding that it is also "in close communication with community leaders and elected officials."

Already this week, Skokie police investigated a possible bomb threat involving a school and synagogue in the area, but said "no credible threat was found."

The department noted it was also made aware of posts on social media "declaring Friday as a day of mobilization."

"The Skokie Police Department reminds all community members to be situationally aware and pay attention to their surroundings. Please report suspicious activity without delay by calling 911," the department said in a release.

The added security measures come as former Hamas leader Khaled Mashal recently called for Friday to be a global day of "anger," supporting the recent Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, which resulted in more than 1,300 Israeli deaths, according to a report from NBC News. Mashal reportedly said demonstrations would send a "message of rage to Zionists and to America."

The ongoing war has claimed at least 2,800 lives since Hamas launched an incursion on Oct. 7.

The report notes that while such calls have historically sparked larger demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank, they have not previously produced large-scale responses in the U.S.

Still, hate crimes have been on the rise both in the U.S. and in Illinois.

Last week, the Anti-Defamation League released a report, titled “Hate in the Prairie State,” describing what it called an “alarming trend of growing hate and extremism in Illinois.” It notes significant increases in anti-Semitic incidents, hate crimes and white supremacist activities in the last three years.

“We are deeply disturbed by the trends outlined in this report,” said ADL Midwest Regional Director David Goldenberg. “Tackling this problem requires a multi-faceted approach, including working with policymakers, anti-hate leaders, and the broader public to turn the tide,” he said.

According to the findings, Anti-Semitic incidents have risen "dramatically" in recent years. In 2022, the number of incidents increased by 128% from the previous year, rising from 53 to 121. There has been a 430% increase since 2016.

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