By Eric Fingerhut, President and CEO, Jewish Federations of North America
Sunday marks 100 days since Hamas terrorists breached Israel’s borders and embarked on a horrific killing spree, murdering innocents in their beds, raping women, shooting babies, and committing countless other cruel atrocities.
In the same period, Jews in North America have been confronted with widespread and frightening antisemitism. Synagogues have been attacked, bomb threats and “swattings” of Jewish institutions have surged, and threats of violence against Jewish people have spiked.
Coincidentally, the 100-day mark falls just one day before the two-year anniversary of another event that shook our community, centered on Colleyville, a small town in northern Texas.
There, a terrorist took worshipers at Congregation Beth Israel hostage in a horrific 15-hour standoff. Thanks to a quick response from law enforcement and a heroic intervention by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker – in accordance with the security training he and his congregants had received – all the hostages were rescued. Nevertheless, the day’s dramatic events lodged themselves in the collective Jewish psyche.
The Colleyville attack itself took place just over three years after a White Supremacist massacred 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue building in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, the deadliest antisemitic attack in US history.
While Squirrel Hill is a well-known Jewish neighborhood, the attack on Colleyville showed that a terrorist could strike Jews anywhere, even in small towns with few Jewish residents. We were focused once again on the absolute imperative that every Jewish community must be protected.
While the development of professional, community run security programs had begun before the Tree of Life massacre, the initiative to expand this effort to include every Jewish community – and every institution in every Jewish community – began in earnest soon after.
The Jewish Federations of North America created LiveSecure, the campaign to build a professional, community security initiative in every community, with the local Federations serving as the catalysts, champions and hosts of these critical programs.
The LiveSecure initiative has empowered Jewish communal buildings to take steps such as hiring security guards, developing close working relationships with local law enforcement, alerting each other to threats, installing cameras, fortifying their doors, enhancing their exterior lighting, and training both clergy and lay people to prevent, defuse, or mitigate violent situations—the same type of training that Rabbi Cytron-Walker credited with teaching him how to save his own life and that of his congregants.
Thanks to the generosity of a small number of critical national donors, thousands of local matching donors, and the hard work of our local professionals, every single Jewish Federation is now in some stage of the LiveSecure process and the number of community security initiatives has already grown from just 25 at the time of the Tree of Life shooting to more than 100 today. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being raised and spent each year to secure our communities.
Now, in the aftermath of Hamas’s brutal attacks, with antisemitism on the rise, we are grateful that so much of this work has been completed and are determined to put in place the most comprehensive self-protective measures available to our communities.
While private philanthropy is essential, so is the support of our government. That is why Jewish Federations are advocating for a dramatic but much-needed increase in the amount of United States federal government funds from the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NGSP). This federal funding is available each year from the Department of Homeland Security to protect houses of worship and other nonprofit organizations. We have spoken out vigorously in support of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)’s proposal to increase the NGSP to $1 billion dollars.
The United States of America and has been the most welcoming nation in history with respect to the protection and safety of the Jewish people. We look forward to the day when we will again be able to feel safe and secure as we publicly and proudly live our Jewish lives in America. Let that day come speedily and in our time.
But for now, securing our communities is an indispensable component of our overriding mission to build flourishing Jewish communities—communities that are healthy, safe, caring, welcoming and inclusive, educated and engaged, involved in our broader communities and deeply connected to Israel and to global Jewry.
It’s our turn. It’s on our watch. We’re on duty. We’re guardians of the Jewish people—shomrim Yisrael. On this milestone day, we are determined to fulfill that duty.