It’s Time to Strengthen the Jewish Security Playbook With Volunteers
The hostage incident at a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue in January — together with past synagogue shootings, and the continued rise in antisemitism in the United States — have prompted the Jewish community to act with increased vigor by devoting more resources and raising more awareness about the need to continuously improve our security.
But there’s one lifesaving element that critically contributes to our safety — volunteer security efforts — that, unfortunately, is still not fully ingrained in our communal psyche.
After nearly two years of service as CEO & National Director of The Community Security Service (CSS), an organization that was founded in 2007 on the heels of the success of the volunteer security model that had long been adopted in Jewish communities outside of the United States, I know that a key idea — namely, that “security is everyone’s responsibility” — is not being absorbed enough.
Just before the start of 2022, I wrote an open letter to the Jewish community about the need for a paradigm shift on security — detailing that we need to be better caretakers for our own security, and articulating why Jewish institutions and members of the community must take the risk of antisemitic threats more seriously.
In a recent piece, CSS’ Deputy National Director, Richard Priem — who hails from the Netherlands, where he led training for the official security organization of the Jewish community — emphatically wrote that “we do not have to wait until the next crisis to take action, we can take action now by getting involved and laying the groundwork for a much-needed cultural shift on our protection.”
Based on this idea, and at a time where targeted acts against Jews – including bomb threats, antisemitic assaults, vandalism, and hate crimes – continue to rise in America, we went to Europe to meet with our volunteer security counterparts in several countries.
It’s important to note that the safety dynamic for European Jews is different from the American Jewish experience. At the same time, the most stark difference from our conversations and briefings in Europe versus what we encounter when speaking with American Jewish leadership was the mindset and deep commitment around the value of the volunteer security model that has been proven via countless lifesaving examples on that continent.
We heard about how trained European Jewish volunteers have thwarted attacks, which only further highlighted the vast work that needs to be done in America.
David Delew, OBE — who served in leadership positions at the United Kingdom-based Community Security Trust (CST) for 30 years, including seven as CEO — led our European mission. It was evident as soon as we touched down in London that the existence of volunteer security on British soil is essential, and compliments other proactive target hardening measures. Volunteer security is an essential component that has a direct impact on safety outcomes.
This bears repeating: we are not putting American Jewry in the best position to prevent attacks if we don’t embrace volunteer security.
We are, however, starting to see a shift.
Jewish institutions in the United States are now actively working to establish volunteer security teams and participate in security programming and training — and those that have done so, have expressed that they feel safer. But far more needs to be done.
Jewish holidays can serve as a catalyst for change. As we gather for the upcoming Passover holiday, we reflect on the severe insecurity that the Jewish people faced in the past due to hatred and extremism. And today, many Jews across the globe remain under threat from vehement antisemitism. In America, we are tremendously fortunate to work closely with law enforcement that understands our sensitivities, vulnerabilities, and the myriad of threats that we face.
Nevertheless, the most tangible step we can take today — in addition to the necessary physical security measures — is to fully embrace that without the presence of trained security volunteers who know the ins and outs of their own communities, we are failing to be optimally safe.
Evan R. Bernstein is National Director and CEO of The Community Security Service (CSS), a national nonprofit organization focused on training volunteer security teams to help protect their Jewish institution’s entrances and perimeters, and to report incidents along with securing events.