As news spread of the arrest of Ahmad Khan Rahami, suspected bomber of the weekend’s incidents in Chelsea and Seaside Park, many in the New York metropolitan area breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that the “armed and dangerous” culprit was no longer at large. Yet, for residents of his hometown of Elizabeth, the revelation that a plotting terrorist had been living in their midst brought with it a sense of unease, all the more so following the discovery of an explosive devise at the local commuter train station.
Nevertheless, life went on as usual for young and old alike, albeit amid an increased police presence. Like all of the neighborhood schools, the Jewish Educational Center’s (JEC) lower school, Bruriah Girls High School, and Rav Teitz Mesivta Academy remained open throughout a day when many eyes in the media were turned toward Elizabeth.
“Baruch Hashem, the learning is taking place as usual; most people are brushing it off and going about their business,” Rabbi Elazar Meir Teitz, Rav and Dean of JEC, whose father, Rabbi Pinchas Teitz, z”l, founded the town’s Orthodox community, told Hamodia. “My daughter who lives in Yerusahalyim called to see how we were. She said that we usually are the ones calling her after terror attacks, but now we’re getting the call.”
Early Monday morning, with raids beginning on the suspect’s apartment only blocks away from JEC, administrators contacted local police to discuss security precautions for the coming day. In the hours before Rahami’s arrest in nearby Linden, local law enforcement made a sweep of schools to check dumpsters and other areas for any suspicious items, but advised that they could remain open. Staff checked hallways and classrooms carefully before opening for students.
Adina Abramov, chief marketing director for JEC, told Hamodia that while the schools always have security while in session, it has currently been doubled. Also, administrators were in constant contact throughout the day with each other, as well as with town officials, to help plan appropriately.
Parents were advised at 7:00 a.m. that the school grounds had been deemed safe by police, but that all students would be on “lock-in” for the duration of the day.
“A lot of them go out for lunch on the avenue, which is very close to where [Rahami’s] house was raided, so we brought in extra food and everybody is staying in today,” said Mrs. Abramov.
She added that police from Elizabeth had been joined by Union County officers and were “swarming everywhere” in the town. It was announced that a “welcome back to school” event at JEC scheduled for Monday would go on as planned, but after-school student sports practices were canceled
“We’re definitely relived that he was caught, and that he was caught pretty quickly, but at the same time, we are being vigilant and discussing what steps we should take going forward. It’s certainly unnerving to know that he was literally living a few blocks away from us,” said Mrs. Abramov.
Brian Ness, a JEC parent and board member, was on the phone from early in the morning helping to coordinate additional security steps and procedures and was pleased with the “balanced approach” with which JEC and the town in general were able to handle the situation.
“It’s definitely scary, but I am glad that it was over quickly rather than having ‘armed and dangerous’ on the loose for five days,” he told Hamodia. “Our security guard [in the lower school] knows every child by name and knows who belongs and who doesn’t. I think it’s important that we were able to go on with as little disruption as possible while giving parents a high level of comfort that the situation was being handled in a professional manner in consultation with the authorities.”