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April 29, 2019 4:34 pm

Jewish Institutions Can Be Both ‘Welcoming and Secure,’ Expert Says After Latest US Synagogue Attack

avatar by Barney Breen-Portnoy


Police secure the scene of a shooting incident at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, north of San Diego, California, April 27, 2019. Photo: Reuters / John Gastaldo.

Security is once again at the top of the agenda for Jewish institutions across the US following Saturday’s deadly shooting attack at a synagogue near San Diego, which occurred six months to the day after the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh.

Jason Friedman — the executive director of the nonprofit Community Security Service (CSS) — spoke with The Algemeiner on Monday to discuss the new reality facing the American Jewish community.

In the wake of an incident like this, what are the first steps Jewish institutions can take to boost security and reassure community members?

“Initially, the institution should ensure that it has the basic framework of security in place — a security committee, a security plan, and a good relationship with its local police department. The security committee then needs to have frank conversations with the congregants about security procedures and rules. Congregants should know that they have the responsibility to look for suspicious objects, vehicles and behavior whenever they are in the vicinity of their institution.”

“Likewise, everyone should try to take precautionary steps to maximize security — minimize access points, minimize large groups from gathering outside and ensure that emergency plans are drilled regularly.”

“Lastly, any institution serious about security should develop a volunteer security team to ensure access and perimeter control and emergency management.”

Jewish institutions seem to face a dilemma when it comes to maintaining open access vs. tightening security. What do you recommend in terms of threading this needle?

“This idea that security and openness are mutually exclusive is brought up quite often and I think it is simply incorrect. We believe that an institution can be welcoming and secure. Having a trained security volunteer outside the main entrance to welcome congregants is good security and good for the institution. Guests are engaged immediately by a member of the community who can welcome them, ensure they are given the correct information about the institution and, most importantly, assess whether they are a threat. The human element of security is the most critical part. Good security can also be good hospitality.”

Did Saturday’s shooting fit a similar profile to past attacks? Or was it something new?

“The shooter stated that he was motivated by the attacks in Pittsburgh and New Zealand, so in that sense he fits a similar profile to recent attacks. A decade ago, we were primarily concerned with state-sponsored or organized extremist groups of differing ideologies. These groups utilized prescribed tactics and were often on the radar of law enforcement.”

“While these groups are still a threat, the emergence of homegrown violent extremists represents a more complex threat. These individuals radicalize themselves online and do not have to travel to camps or visit known recruiters for indoctrination and training. In this manner, they can often avoid detection by law enforcement. They carry out their acts in the vicinity of their homes, which makes it harder for synagogues to practice security through obscurity. It is no longer only high-profile Jewish targets that must be protected. These extremists are often forming communities online to learn best practices, praise historic attacks and broadcast their attempts.”

What can Jewish institutions do to maintain security awareness after the latest incident recedes into memory?

“If communities only seek to outsource security, then the awareness will be linked to the news cycle, which moves rather quickly. In order to maintain awareness, institutions must include their community members in the security process. Every member of the community must understand that they have a responsibility to maintain awareness, dedicate time to security and work closely with local law enforcement. Likewise, those who are able to volunteer for security teams must. An informed community that is taking active steps themselves is going to provide more effective and sustainable security in the long term.”

Looking at history, do you think the American Jewish community faces a greater security threat now than ever before?

“The threat is different now than ever before because the nature of communications and information is different. In order to neutralize this changing threat, security for the Jewish community must also undergo a change. We must have a grassroots, ground-up approach that relies on the ingrained knowledge the community possesses, tried-and-true security techniques and 21st-century communications. In other words, Jewish security must be ‘democratized,’ with everyone in the community playing a role to stay safe.”

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