Jewish educators were this week told they had a “duty to promote an atmosphere of calm” after false rumours of threats led to a record number of calls to security groups, writes Stephen Oryszczuk.
Nerves were on edge in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, as anxious parents heard of police searches and security chiefs were told of “men taking notes outside kosher shops in Golders Green”.
A red car driven by an elderly man was stopped by police, news of which quickly spread online, but a spokesman for the Community Security Trust said it was a “false alarm” and that witness reports were “not entirely accurate”.
CST director Mark Gardner confirmed the panic, saying: “We’ve never had anything like the number of calls and emails that we’re receiving right now.” However, he moved to reassure the community, saying: “There is no specific intelligence suggesting an attack is imminent against our community.”
A spokesman for Orthodox patrol group Shomrim concurred, saying: “We ask the community to remain calm but vigilant.”
Educators were among those left fielding calls from worried parents, after rumours of police car searches spread across the capital. In a letter to headteachers, Rabbi David Meyer, director of the Partnerships for Jewish Schools (PaJeS), confirmed that there were “significant initiatives taking place across the community to help ensure security”.
However he said: “School leaders have a very important part to play in such challenging times. Above all we have a duty to promote an atmosphere of calm and ensure a sense of security.”
On the impact on kids, he said: “We sometimes assume children within our schools are insulated from it, however too often they are the most severely affected – even the youngest will have heard about the tragedies in France, often through rumour and whisper and in an uncontrolled fashion.
“They pick up on the concerns of the teachers and the murmuring of their parents. They will have noticed the increased security and have probably been affected by the security drills, possibly finding the concept of hiding under tables quite terrifying. These fears should not be dismissed by recognised and addressed with sensitivity.”
Concern follows last week’s police announcement that patrols would be stepped up, and comes ahead of figures next month, which are widely expected to reveal the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents on record.
On Sunday, Home Secretary Theresa May joined Eric Pickles, Secretary for Communities, at a Board of Deputies plenary, where she called on Britain to defend its Jews and eradicate anti-Semitism.
She added: “I never thought I’d see the day where Jews were fearful of remaining here in the UK. “We must redouble our efforts to wipe out anti-Semitism. We cherish the contribution you make – not just in the past but today and every day.”