The mayor and police commissioner joined almost 40 representatives from local Jewish congregations on Sept. 4 to discuss issues of security for the upcoming Jewish High Holidays.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, Baltimore City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, Baltimore County Councilman Israel “Izzy” Patoka and Baltimore Jewish Council Executive Director Howard Libit and Director of Security Keith Tiedemann all attended the gathering at Congregation Shomrei Emunah on Greenspring Avenue in Baltimore.
Tiedemann said that the meeting was largely focused explaining to attendees the deployment plans for the community’s police presence. He noted that the overall plans are “basically the same thing every year,” though he noted that “law enforcement has really stepped up since Pittsburgh.”
Ever since the Oct. 27, 2018, shooting at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha synagogue building in Pittsburgh, which resulted in 11 fatalities, security at synagogues and other Jewish religious centers has become a higher priority, said Libit in an interview with the JT.
There will be an increase in the number of police patrols during the High Holidays, as well as the number of armed and unarmed security personnel protecting potential targets, said Libit. There will also be additional “visible stationary units” present, particularly in Orthodox communities, where worshipers might not have access to cell phones during services.
In the past 15 years, Baltimore-area Jewish institutions, including synagogues, have received a total of more than $11 million from the federal Homeland Security grant program, according to Libit, including approximately $1.75 million awarded in both Fiscal Year 2018 and Fiscal Year 2019.
“The BJC has been lobbying at both the federal and state level for this money for security,” he said. “Our elected officials in Congress and in Annapolis have all been incredibly supportive and helpful.”
A statewide fund of $3 million was established in 2019 for “places of worship that are at risk of hate crimes,” in addition to a $2 million statewide fund for schools and preschools that may also be at risk. “That application process is underway,” he said.
Grants like these have become a common feature since the Sept. 11 attacks, with the federal government providing money for measures such as security gates, cameras and door locks.
The need for these increased security measures and funding was echoed by Marc Terrill, president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.
“It remains unfathomable and deeply troubling that we are where we are as a society. That said, we have heeded the warnings and have become rather sophisticated in our security apparatus,” said Terrill via email.
He went on to say that The Associated and local Jewish organizations have strong ties to the law enforcement agencies of the city, county, state and federal governments, and that this has led to “significant increases in preparedness.”
“Our area institutions have been evaluated, personnel has been trained and operating procedures put into place,” he said. “Synagogues and area Jewish facilities are fully aware of the gravity of the situation. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh and Poway are perennial reminders. We are immensely appreciative of the support received by all levels of law enforcement.”
In addition to the presence of city police, Tiedemann said that there are “at least four or five private security agencies that contract out security to the synagogues for the High Holidays,” such as the firm Defender One Security.
As part of the security preparations, Tiedemann emailed a series of documents with tips on security preparedness to some 300 recipients, including synagogues, schools and Jewish community centers covering the Baltimore metropolitan area as well as Annapolis, Anne Arundel County and Howard County. Local groups such as the Northwest Citizens Patrol and Shomrim also received access to the preparedness tips.
Some of the suggestions included limiting the number of points of entry, training staff to recognize suspicious activity and coordinating with local law enforcement during and prior to the High Holidays.