The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has made an impactful personnel move intended to strengthen security in the DMV region with the hiring of Russell “Rusty” Rosenthal, who has 25 years of experience with the FBI and Anti-Defamation League (ADL), as its new Executive Director of Regional Security.
Rosenthal’s impressive resume carries with it all the skills and experience necessary to handle the various security aspects of such a large, complex region. He was most recently the Vice President of Security and Law Enforcement for ADL and ran the FBI office in Israel from 2019-2022, both of which were positions where he gained significant experience combating cybercrime, leading counterterrorism efforts, conducting risk assessments and creating risk mitigation strategies.
“[The] Federation is committed to ensuring our local organizations have the support necessary to meet our diverse community’s needs – including a strong, thoughtful, and proactive approach to safety and security. Rusty’s experience ensures we can serve as their strategic communal partner in this essential work,” Robin Hettleman Weinberg, Federation President said in a press release.
Rosenthal moved into the new role earlier this month and has been working to get up to speed on the ins and outs of his new position, which encompasses working with Jewish organizations and law enforcement agencies across D.C., Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland.
Federation CEO Gil Preuss said the organization made the move in part because of the complex and unique nature of the DMV area and its community. Preuss said that the Federation felt there was a need for more personalized security that could directly address the specific needs of the area’s Jewish community.
“Our goal is to make sure that we are supporting all the local organizations in an effective way that aligns with how they are seeking to strengthen their own security. Different organizations have different approaches, they have different goals, they have different populations that they’re serving. But as the Federation, we hope that we can strengthen each one of them,” Preuss said.
With that objective in mind, the Federation contacted Rosenthal to see if he would be interested in joining the Federation’s team, as Pruess said they had interviewed him prior to him taking the ADL job and really liked him.
Rosenthal said the vastness of the region and all of its complexities are somewhat daunting for him as he’s just getting started in his new role, but feels that overall, the Federation will be able to strengthen the community by providing detailed, specific security assistance.
“It’s [the region is] geographically vast. There’s a lot of different institutions that fall under our purview. And then of course, a lot of people as well. And then within that you have just complete diversity of the population, even within the Jewish community,” Rosenthal said. “Some people are more religious than others, some people and institutions are more involved than others, so it’s really trying to get everybody on board with it.”
Rosenthal is now tasked with the responsibility of performing threat assessments in the area, creating risk mitigation plans and collaborating with law enforcement to deal with the specific needs of countless local Jewish organizations.
It’s an important responsibility given the current state of antisemitism in America, and Rosenthal will work to create a security network in the area and what he calls “a culture of security” to keep the Jewish community safe.
“I think a new level [of security] is warranted just based on the new level that we’re dealing with in terms of antisemitic incidents in general. The response that I think we’ve all perceived after the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas was very eye-opening to the Jewish community. We know that we’re operating in a higher threat environment, so it just warrants a top-down review of our security posture as a community,” Rosenthal said.
An important aspect of Rosenthal’s top-down review will be conducting threat assessments for synagogues and buildings belonging to other Jewish institutions to identify any gaps in security and work to plug any holes they might find.
“You’re basically looking at any given facility or location from an attacker’s perspective. And you basically want to try and identify vulnerabilities, whether it’s unlocked doors, or a lack of barriers that would prevent a vehicle from driving into a facility, for instance,” Rosenthal said. “You’re basically just looking at any given facility and saying how can we make this a harder target for a potential attacker and then going and implementing those changes.”
Rosenthal said it’s an unfortunate and cynical way to have to look at things, but that it’s vitally important to ensure that people are protected as best as possible from outside threats. He added that people need to feel safe and secure existing as Jews publicly, and that’s something they’re hoping to accomplish.
“It’s about creating the culture of security and a feeling of strength and resiliency within the community, so that the people can feel comfortable in expressing their Judaism, whether it’s going to school or congregating in any way, so they don’t have to worry about the potential threats that are out there,” Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal said that fulfilling his job and preventing harm from coming to the local Jewish community is personal to him and he wants people to know he’ll work tirelessly to ensure their safety.
“I’ve been in this area since the early 90s when I came here for law school. I’ve lived in Virginia, I lived in D.C., I’ve lived in Maryland. This, to me is not just a job, but I feel invested and a part of this community, so I care about it,” Rosenthal said. “I feel like I’m protecting members of my own community, of my own family.”