In a free society like the one in which we are privileged to live, there is often a need to find a balance between individual freedom and public security. Our community got its first taste of that tension after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when bollards went up around Jewish institutions to prevent car-ramming attacks, and security buzzers and entrance guards were installed to stop the free flow of people into JCCs, synagogues and schools.
Now, in the age of mass shootings, Jewish institutions are grappling with how to keep their doors open and locked at the same time. Doing so requires training, careful planning and the active participation of institutional participants and staff. Last fall, in the wake of the Tree of Life terror attack in Pittsburgh, many organizations, including the Chabad of Poway, held programs to address security concerns and precautions, during which they were advised by law enforcement representatives: “If you can run away, run away; if you can hide, hide; if you can’t hide, challenge the shooter.’”
When a gunman began firing in the Chabad synagogue on April 27, one man ran toward the shooter and chased him out of the building. An off-duty Border Patrol agent shot at the attacker and hit his car. Despite the tragic loss of life at Chabad of Poway, the response of those present prevented further tragedy.
But armed guards and quick-thinking, selfless congregants are not necessarily a panacea for the scourge of mass shootings. “Weapons certainly have their place in security, but one has to be careful not to substitute the presence of a weapon for tried-and-true security theories and training,” Jason Friedman, the executive director of the Community Security Service, told JTA.
CSS has trained more than 4,000 volunteers to spot suspicious behavior and avert potential attack. Another organization, Secure Community Network, is a Homeland Security initiative affiliated with the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which provides security information and training to Jewish communities nationwide.
Security has always been a public-private effort. The federal spending bill for 2019 includes $60 million to help synagogues and religious day schools, among others. And law enforcement is a key partner in keeping our communal institutions safe.
But national organizations, security funding and dedicated law enforcement agencies are not enough. Each of our institutions — large and small, and not just synagogues — needs to prepare, train and develop security plans and systems. While it is certainly a very sad state of affairs — who would have imagined that we would be so concerned about Jewish personal safety in the United States in 2019? — anything less than active preparedness and vigilance is irresponsible and risks lives.