AUGUSTA — Temple Beth El was evacuated, Hebrew School was canceled and Woodlawn Street was closed for several hours Sunday following an emailed bomb threat to synagogues in Maine.

Rabbi Erica Asch said the Augusta Police notified the congregation of the threat and checked both the temple and the Shuman Center and sealed the buildings to wait for the arrival of a bomb-sniffing dog from the Maine State Police, which determined there was no bomb.

David Offer, Temple Beth El president, said threats to the Augusta synagogue seem to be part of a nationwide wave of similar incidents.

Synagogues in South Portland and Bath also received a similar threats Sunday.

Shannon Moss, public information officer for the state Department of Public Safety, said the Maine Information Analysis Center is aware of multiple threats directed to Maine synagogues on Sunday.

“In the past 24 hours the emails were also sent to synagogues nationwide,” Moss said. “They were deemed to be hoaxes. The MIAC will continue to report any updated information or events related to this issue for situational awareness.”


Rabbi Jared Saks of Congregation Bet Ha’am in South Portland said in a telephone interview that a bomb threat was emailed Sunday morning to and that police there determined it to be a hoax. Another similar threat was received at the Beth Israel Congregation in Bath, he said.

“It has been part of a spike in threats that we have seen in the past few days,” Saks said.

Threats against Jewish organizations spiked following the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas War on Oct. 7.

“The threats are something we’ve been seeing for quite awhile, but certainly more after Oct. 7.”

The threats came two days after the eighth and final day of Hanukkah, during which Jews celebrate the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the rout of occupying Syrian armies from Jerusalem.

At Temple Beth El, Asch said, the congregation celebrated the holiday with a Hanukkah Party on Dec. 10 with songs, a Mensch Madness Dreidel Tournament and latkes.


“The police were wonderful and professional. Our teachers and students were very calm in evacuating the building and everything worked in the way that it should when we have these sorts of threats,” Asch said.

The threats, she said, are a very small piece of what happening now.

“When I think of what’s going on in our community, I think of the Hanukkah Party that happened last week and everything else we’re doing on a daily basis, to study, to learn, to pray, to do all the things that we do to make us a community,” she said. “This doesn’t define who we are and how we go about in the world. It’s something we have to learn to deal with in the midst of all the other really important things that we do in the community.”

In South Portland, an email was received around 8:30 a.m., just about the time the Congregation Bet Ha’am was opening for Sunday school. A number of staff members got the same email, prompting congregation members to contact South Portland police, Saks said.

No one was allowed in the building while officers took about 45 minutes to sweep the synagogue and determine there were no bombs inside, Saks said. Classes and services resumed after the sweep was completed.

South Portland Police Chief Daniel Ahern confirmed Sunday night that his department investigated the threat and deemed it not to be credible.


Media outlets reported that bomb threats were received Sunday at a synagogue in East Lansing, Michigan and at a congregation in Jackson, Mississippi. Bomb threats were made on Saturday to several Jewish synagogues in Boulder, Colorado.

The Anti-Defamation League, which is based in New York City, posted a statement on its Facebook page Sunday evening that said it is continuing to work with law enforcement on several reported email bomb threats against Jewish institutions across the country. The ADL said most of the threats were made Sunday.

In a news release issued Dec. 11, the ADL Center on Extremism reported it has tracked 2,031 antisemitic incidents in the U.S. since Oct 7 — the highest number of incidents during any two-month period in more than 40 years since ADL began tracking in 1979.

“The lid to the sewers is off, and Jewish communities all across the country are being inundated with hate. Public officials and college leaders must turn down the temperature and take clear action to show this behavior is unacceptable to prevent more violence,” Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s Chief Executive Officer said in statement released Dec. 11.

The Secure Community Network, which describes itself as the official safety and security organization of the Jewish community in North America, said there have been at least 199 swatting incidents and false bomb threats targeting Jewish organizations in the past few days alone, which is a “major concern” for the safety and security of the Jewish community as well as law enforcement.

Swatting is the false report of a violent emergency situation that generally brings a heavily armed police response to a person, organization or business that is the target of harassment.

Augusta police said Sunday that reports of shots fired in the area of Temple Beth El in Augusta turned out to be fireworks.

Portland Press Herald writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

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