While insisting there is no particular cause for alarm, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly sought to assure the Jewish community Tuesday that extra security measures would be in place for Passover.
They also called on the public to go about their business as usual, reporting anything suspicious via a police hotline.
"While there is no specific threat, increased surveillance is something that is definitely warranted," Bloomberg said after meeting with representatives of area Jewish institutions at police headquarters in Manhattan. "We saw after 9-11 that the oceans were not as wide as we thought they were when it comes to terrorism."
Michael Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council, which coordinated the meeting, said the pre-holiday security briefing was an annual event dating back almost two decades. But he noted that this year, the mayor and police commissioner took the "unprecedented" step of answering questions from the Jewish representatives to address specific concerns.
Bloomberg and Kelly noted that the departmentís Operation Atlas, which provides a greater police presence and alertness against terror threats, includes a beefed-up presence at houses of worship.
"The Jewish community has full faith in Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner Kelly and the 37,000 men and women of the NYPD to ensure that this Passover is no different than any other Passover," said Miller.
Councilman Simcha Felder of Brooklyn also praised the NYPD’s deployments, and said that officers had become such a regular presence at local synagogues that "they should be included in the services."
Kelly said that while the house of worship patrols during holiday seasons was commonplace, "what is different is that we will continue this coverage" after the holidays.
The reassurance comes at a time when the still volatile Middle East, post-9-11 alertness, the war in Iraq and a general climate of increased worldwide anti-Semitism have combined to bring about an unprecedented state of vigilance in the Jewish community.
Some concerns were increased this week after the Daily News revealed Sunday that area Islamic schools, mirroring events in the Middle East, were teaching children from textbooks that include hostile references to Jews and Christians.
Schools in Queens were found to use textbooks claiming that Jews are "deceitful, except for a few" and "subscribe to a belief in racial superiority," the paper reported.
Asked about the textbooks, Bloomberg said, "Children shouldn’t be drawn into politics. Using texts that condemn other people is inappropriate, undemocratic and, personally, disgraceful."
Miller said his group had contacted local Muslim leaders to discuss usage of the textbooks, which may be found in as many as half the city’s Muslim private schools, according to the News.
In another sign of the times, many area yeshivas and day schools are known over the last several weeks to have begun stockpiling bottled water, food, medicine and other items to be used in the event that students have to remain on the premises for extended periods.
"There are a variety of different recommendations that come from the state and city and other government that we have transmitted to the schools," said Chaim Lauer, executive director of the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York. "This is not a reflection of anything imminent but just responsible leadership."
David Pollock, associate executive director of the JCRC, who is spearheading the agency’s emergency preparedness efforts, said schools and other institutions have been urged to create plans both for evacuating and for sheltering in place. He said such plans were intended not only as a safeguard against terror attacks but also against natural or accidental disasters.
The hotline for suspicious activities or other tips is (888) NYC-SAFE. Callers may also dial 311 to be directed to an appropriate city agency for specific inquiries.