I recently returned from a visit to Peru. During the time I was in Peru trekking and volunteering, I spent some time in the Chabad House in Cusco. It is one of the largest and most active in South America and attracts many Israeli and Jewish travellers. The hospitality was, as one expects from Chabad emissaries warm, gracious and welcoming in the extreme. Chabad Houses serve an important function as an oasis of Judaism in remote locations and are open to all Jews.
The issue I had with the Chabad House in Cusco, Peru was its appalling, almost non-existent security. During the daylight hours and during Shabbat and holidays ANYONE can enter unchallenged into the complex. I personally was present during a Friday night Shabbat dinner where well over a hundred participants had gathered in the central courtyard and watched with great concern as people just entered off the street without any type of check or even basic security protocol. Almost eleven years after the Mumbai Terror attacks this is totally unacceptable. It is a tragedy waiting to happen.
On November 26-28, 2008, seven people were killed, including the Rabbi Gabriel Holzberg and his pregnant wife Rifka, at the Nariman Chabad House in Mumbai. The Chabad House was among 12 locations targeted in coordinated shooting and bombing attacks by Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic terrorist organisation based in Pakistan, that killed 166 people and injured hundreds more in a three-day rampage in Mumbai. The security procedures, or lack of, at the Chabad House in Mumbai before the attacks was similar to the current situation in Cusco. Today in Mumbai the reality is the polar opposite. There is a rigorous security check and all the appropriate overt and covert security measures are being implemented.
One would have thought that after the horrific terror attack and loss of innocent life at one Chabad house security procedures would have been reviewed worldwide. The unfortunate reality of the word we live in where Jews are targeted simply because of our religion is a fact. Just yesterday a synagogue was targeted in Germany on Yom Kippur and there were two fatalities. The best preventative measures call for a rigorous security protocol that contains both overt and covert components. In Australia for example every Jewish school I have visited has a very visual and active overt security display. A terrorist or extremist looking for a Jewish target will always scout out locations beforehand and is far more likely to pick a “soft” target.
The situation in Cusco is easy to remedy. There are already two doors before the courtyard. I would suggest seeking the security advice of the Israeli Embassy in Lima and/or consulting with a security firm to find the best possible solution to prevent any potential repeat of Mumbai. Forewarned is forearmed.