By Gil Preuss
Jan. 15 marked one year since Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three of his congregants were held hostage in their synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel, in Colleyville, Texas. As Jewish communities around the world collectively breathed a sigh of relief when all four hostages emerged safely, this antisemitic event made us all reevaluate our perception of safety in Jewish communities and what it means to be prepared for a crisis.
Immediately following the Colleyville situation, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and our partner, Secure Community Network (SCN), worked to ensure that our local Jewish community was aware of the situational awareness training and the security resources available to them.
Greater Washington faces some of the most dynamic and complex security challenges in the country, particularly with the federal government housed in our backyard.
While we have made great progress in our efforts to engage the Greater Washington Jewish community on security concerns, needs and best practices, growing antisemitism creates new challenges that require us to expand the reach of effective security across the community.
As we have seen over the past year, antisemitism continues to rise in Greater Washington and nationwide. In 2022, multiple antisemitic incidents impacted our community: antisemitic graffiti in Bethesda, on a bus stop bench at Montgomery Mall, and in Loudoun County, antisemitic flyers in D.C.’s Kalorama neighborhood; antisemitic, racist and homophobic graffiti in the College Park University of Maryland Metro station parking garage; swastikas spray painted at Union Station; hateful messaging on Bethesda’s Walt Whitman High School sign; and many others during the last quarter of 2022.
Though the threat of antisemitism cannot be eradicated overnight, there are clear steps forward we all can take to further our individual and communal safety and security. In addition to continuing to prioritize Holocaust education and addressing local antisemitism, Federation is currently engaged in a planning process to expand our security efforts across the community. This includes the local launch of LiveSecure, a national initiative in partnership with SCN and The Jewish Federations of North America, to ensure the security and resiliency of our community today and into the future.
Looking ahead, we aim to further communal security and preparedness efforts over the next three years by increasing trainings, providing more facility assessments to ensure every Jewish organization can receive an assessment every two to three years, tripling the number of institutional executives and community members trained to keep community members and staff safe and leveraging millions more in state and federal security funding to provide support for security enhancements and activities.
While no initiative can guarantee security, Federation remains firm in our belief that every member of our community deserves the right to engage in Jewish communal life proudly, publicly and safely, without fear.
One year after Colleyville, Federation remains committed to ensuring our Greater Washington Jewish community members and institutions are equally prepared for a crisis. Our community’s security leaders collaborate closely with local law enforcement to ensure our synagogues and Jewish organizations are safe, and we are fortunate to have this extensive and experienced network of professionals keeping our community secure.
Since Federation brought SCN to Greater Washington as our security partners in January 2020, we have completed 77 comprehensive security assessments at Jewish facilities; helped 64 organizations obtain more than $7.35 million in funding from the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program; conducted 261 trainings for 7,832 people at Jewish institutions; allocated nearly $1.2 million in communal security funds; and launched a public incident reporting tool for all community members.
Federation will continue to prioritize safeguarding and securing our community and combatting antisemitism, in partnership with our local community and organizations including the JCRC, ADL, AJC and others. And as we remain vigilant, we commit to continuing conversations with our allies against hate across Greater Washington and beyond. We are grateful to those who continue to stand with our Jewish community, and to those who speak out in the face of all bigotry and hatred.
Together, we can continue building a safe, secure and vibrant Jewish future in Greater Washington. ■
To learn more about Jewish Greater Washington’s security and resources, please visit: shalomdc.org/security-updates-and-resources
Gil Preuss is the CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.