A new meaning for ‘securing the Jewish future’

We endure this moment….

…to enjoy many of these:

The 1990 North American Jewish Population Study reset the Jewish communal agenda. While not exactly blindsided, the greater than assumed findings of diminished Jewish identity alarmed community leaders.  “Continuity” became a buzzword.

But the response was more than mere talk. Massive amounts of Jewish philanthropy, especially by Jewish Federations, were both redirected and newly invested into efforts often described as “securing the Jewish future.”

Across the country that has meant supporting Birthright and even earlier youth trips to Israel, Jewish preschool and summer camp vouchers, free Jewish books and music tapes, teen volunteerism, young adult programming, Moishe Houses, young family playgroups, tens of millions of additional dollars for hundreds of Hilllels, and more.

Three decades later, after the “continuity” wake-up call and the recent wake-up calls of deadly synagogue attacks (Pittsburgh and Poway) and other incidents, what it means to “secure the Jewish future” we must now take on an additional, urgent mandate: Jewish institutional security.

Yes, of course the community must still invest ever more in the “continuity” agenda and do so more creatively and with measurable impacts. But in a very literal sense, unless we can physically secure our Jewish facilities where the Jewish future is incubated—camps, schools, synagogues, agencies, Hillels, and JCCs—that future itself will be insecure.

Thirty years ago, we realized that only new approaches infused with significant investments would change the trajectory of the Jewish future. Today we realize that while both new programs and enhanced security are necessary, neither by itself is sufficient.

Just as there is a checklist for best practices in the continuity piece of “securing the Jewish future,” so too are there best practices in the physical security piece:

  1. There is no boiler plate security system that fits every facility.  It is an imprecise line between our facilities looking like armed fortresses and still remaining open spaces. We must ensure that while we secure those spaces, they become ever more welcoming to young families, young adults, teens, and our beloved seniors, and especially those of all ages with special needs.
  2. Funders should insist that Jewish facilities seeking support for new security gadgets actually first conduct security audits followed by developing security plans and training programs.
  3. Funders should leverage their own financial support by providing matching grants.
  4. Funders should insist that Jewish groups are also aggressively seeking public support for their security equipment purchases from the US Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program as well as state and local sources.
  5. Security at Jewish facilities should not exclusively be a function of a JCC’s, a Hillel’s or a synagogue’s cash flow.  Jewish security should protect all…not just those affiliated with an institution awash in a strong balance sheet. For communal funders that means reviewing the geographic, denominational and service diversity profiles of grantees.
  6. Especially for the smaller, minimally staffed Jewish groups seeking government security grants, funders should actively provide notification of funding deadlines, application guidance, and step-by-step technical assistance throughout the burdensome process.
  7. All Jewish facilities should leverage the expertise and willingness to help of their local Federations, the Secure Community Network (SCN), an initiative of Jewish Federations and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and local law enforcement agencies. Security is not a solo endeavor.  We are all truly better together.

All the security funding, all the security training and equipment, and all the security relationships are simply a means—a means to help sustain and strengthen Jewish life. Together, with an eye towards security but our hearts focused on Jewish life, we will secure the Jewish future.

About the Author
Jay Tcath is Executive Vice President of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
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