Congregations eye security as high holidays near


Ahead of the high holidays, the Jewish Federations of North America is providing Jewish communities with $130 million for a new program called LiveSecure, which enables federations across the continent to invest in training and resources for the security of Jewish institutions.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, more than 2,700 antisemitic incidents were recorded in the United States in 2021, a 34% increase from the previous year. Between the 2018 fatal shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and the hostage situation in January at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, tensions are high.

The Secure Community Network (SCN), an arm of JFNA, recommends congregations install security alarm systems, have medical supplies on hand, install nighttime lighting and enroll staff and members in threat scenario training for emergency preparedness.

“We recognize the unfortunate rise in antisemitism and continued need for vigilance from all Jewish organizations,” said Lindsay Feldman, executive director of Washington Hebrew Congregation.

Not every congregation possesses the control of owning its own building, however. Bet Mishpachah, for example, relies on another organization’s brick and mortar spaces to host services. This means they must coordinate with the host organization when preparing for heightened security.

Similarly, Fabrangen, an independent and participatory Jewish community, hosts Shabbat services at the Washington Ethical Society on 16th Street in the District. “We’re a very small organization,” said security coordinator Jerry Garfinkel. “A do it yourself type crew.”Garfinkel said Fabrangen received a grant from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) two years ago, and that the money is still being implemented. The grant was obtained with the assistance of chief Washington-area SCN agent Robert Graves.

At in-person services, Fabrangen posts greeters outside the building’s doors. This year, however, Garfinkel says there are concerns about whether greeters are enough.

“For the high holidays, we used to hire off-duty D.C. police personnel and national police officers, but they’re short-handed right now,” he said. “This year we have hired security officers from a private company and we will still have congregation members as greeters.”

Garfinkel said Fabrangen is also hiring two officers as opposed to one as in the past. “We have concerns in general because there have been so many antisemitic incidences, even violent ones,” he said.

The SCN grant allows the members of Fabrangen to get training in order to feel more confident if an incident were to occur. For example, Graves, also the security director for The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, will teach a class on how to react if there is an active shooter.

Graves also conducts a weekly webinar where all the Jewish security officials in the area gather and discuss security issues and safety procedures. “I go to that fairly often, and the topic recently has been on the high holidays,” said Garfinkel.

In addition, Community Security Service, a Jewish volunteer-run security organization, provides training over Zoom for Fabrangen’s greeters.

The LiveSecure program is designed to operate for three years, but could be extended if a needs assessment reveals communities require more time or assistance to fully implement the necessary security upgrades to provide a safe and secure environment for worship.

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