Zalman Myer-Smith
Security for the Community, by the Community.

It’s Quiet Now

Pandemic – the mere word conjures up imagery from Wuhan, China with governmental agencies scrambling to stem the progress of coronavirus and mitigate both further damage and panic. Without a proactive vaccination and reactive antidote, it may continue to kill many.

The antisemitic pandemic that has swept across the United States in various forms is very similar. However, there is no quick antidote to an age-old evil. It ebbs and flows. When it’s quieter and there are fewer less reported incidents and no news grabbing headlines exposing synagogue shootings or religious services getting attacked by machete-wielding lunatics.  Consistent cases of vile graffiti and hate crime is a sobering reminder that antisemitism is, for the moment, here to stay.

Reactive security responses are being taken over by proactive solutions in conjunction with law enforcement and security agencies. This pandemic has caused sites, be they synagogues, schools or community centers, to take responsibility for their own safety and security.

The American Jewish community is finally waking up to a new reality of multilayered responses of barriers, private armed security along with a seemingly new yet critical component of trained staff and volunteers who are able to respond until 911 arrives. Being able to identify and report hate crimes has helped identify the colossal challenge ahead of us as a community.

Apathy to this threat has been quite alarming and as advanced as the Jewish community is in so many other facets, they have been nonplussed with a new and deeply disturbing reality.

As the fog of apathy begins to clear, and we must push through it, we only need to turn to our venerable colleagues in Europe to see storied and replicated community security infrastructures that have been tested and proven for decades. As a proud former member of the Community Security Trust (CST) in the UK, I have seen the leadership, tactics, and community embrace a powerful model that works in sync with the British government and other communities.

Sister organizations such as the CSO in South Africa and Australia, as well as numerous others in Europe all focus on one specialized area, voluntary community security infrastructure where the community is immersed in security awareness and appropriate responses. These are life protecting skills that can frustrate the efforts of an attacker and save lives.

Hate against Jews is nothing new. We have been plagued with terror atrocities, hate crimes, and active attacks from those who wish to harm Jewish life and the Jewish way of life for centuries. There is no better venue than attacking where Jews congregate to pray, celebrate, learn and participate.

As American Jewry grapples with the process of balancing a welcoming community environment while also protecting attendees, a natural front door greeting and screening process is now being used to help deter and detect those who may seek to do harm. This system, among others, has been in place for decades in other Jewish communities across the globe and has been both effective and balanced in facilitating an open door policy, albeit with screening those seeking to enter.

I vividly recall, as a security volunteer during the 1990s with the venerable UK based Community Security Trust facing similar threats and risks. What has not changed is the continued vital requirement for every Jewish site (and I would contend any house of faith) to have trained staff and volunteers able to deter, detect, delay & defend an attacker who comes to kill or maim.

Volunteerism is a core Jewish community activity steeped in history. At Masada, besieged by Roman battalions, less than a thousand Jewish volunteers fought off an empire for almost three years. In the Warsaw ghetto, Mordechai Anielewicz and his band of volunteers fought off Nazi death units clearing out the final residents. In Israel, volunteers helped defend the Jewish homeland.  Our own Peace Corps established by President John F. Kennedy, and our Armed Forces, law enforcement and first responders embrace the power of volunteerism. They inspire us all to give of ourselves and to enhance our communities.

British Jews, among other foreign countries, have highly experienced community security volunteer apparatuses with training and certification that can exceed that of law enforcement or high-level private security. Volunteerism removes the financial barrier of supplying well-trained security personnel who know the location and community members.

Indeed a security volunteer tasked with monitoring site security cameras was a key participant in ensuring that the Yom Kippur synagogue shooting attack in Halle, Germany did not escalate any further and congregants were ushered into a safe room as the attacker’s heinous efforts were literally blocked by a solid and locked front door.

Community security is just that and everyone, man woman and child is a stakeholder. We deeply cherish our partnership with law enforcement, but we both know it’s a shared critical effort.

Former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly in a 2018 OP-ED in the NY Post referred to the very same volunteer platform we oversee as a “cost-effective force multiplier” and one that should be considered among American Jewry. Within thirty-six hours or less, any faith-based institution or school can have protocols, systems, and barriers to delay the progress of an attacker, whatever their intentions.

The Talmud teaches Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, or Each and every one of us is responsible for each other. Only through involvement can we dilute the effectiveness of those who wish to harm us.

About the Author
Zalman Myer-Smith is the National Director of The Community Security Organization focuses on liaising, training, and working with law enforcement agencies and serving thousands of Jewish community synagogues, schools, and centers.
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