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

The Life Changing Power of the Volunteer

Some people believe they don’t have time to volunteer. With work, relationships, family & recreational responsibilities, it might not seem possible to add another dimension to already hectic lives and schedules.

Having worked & volunteered with the Jewish community in different countries and locales for over 25 years, I know otherwise. The impact of being a volunteer has afforded countless opportunities to expand my horizons, my career while also  understanding & serving those respective communities. I have volunteered in 2 or 3 different roles that support & protect Jewish life, but the most powerful has (and continues to be) that of a security volunteer.

In the United Kingdom, indeed across Europe, South Africa & Australia, Jewish locations be they shuls, schools or community centers, have an army of volunteers comprised of parents, grandparents, business & working people from the entire social spectrum participate in securing sites as volunteers. With initial and ongoing training that a professional security company would envy, volunteers help deter and detect suspicious behavior at their locations. This is carried out in conjunction with local law enforcement & CSO management.

Sites could never afford the cost of manpower or training, and a couple of hours a week from a well trained and experienced volunteer is literally priceless. Jewish volunteers have “skin in the game” particularly at their own sites, know who belongs and who does not and are a familiar & calming face in the case of an incident. An off duty police officer or licensed security officer on the outside are great & I strongly recommend additionally working with them, however nothing beats the eyes, ears and skill sets of a security volunteer.

Security volunteers can help secure events and work on search & rescue or major incidents if necessary. The recruitment and retention of volunteers can be a challenge, but if they believe in the “product” you are offering your community, they will gladly participate. It certainly is a two way street.

I have made life long friends as a volunteer, seen friends meet their spouses or business partners in very successful enterprises. On a daily basis I continue to see how contagious volunteerism can be & how the camaraderie and experiences are very meaningful.

In a very much “I” society where the focus of major communication apps and social behavior is on oneself, giving to others and enhancing your local community is a panacea to so many social ills. It’s mentally, emotionally and even spiritually refreshing to consistently do something (albeit for a couple of hours a week) for someone or something else.

One may understandably ask “what’s in it for me?” Ironically, the act of volunteerism isn’t selfless, as there is so much you get back in return. It might not even be as altruistic as some would have you believe, because the return on investment of time, effort and care is huge.

Our security organization is over almost purely volunteer based. Our volunteers are men and women who come from many walks of life and embrace learning security and self defense skills that make their local Jewish sites safer.

Rabbis, School directors & community leaders have thanked us for giving a “role” to volunteers who consistently attend services or programs because they are on a security roster or schedule. Law enforcement & city officials are also very impressed at the care, attention & professionalism of security volunteers at sites and events.

It goes further than that. These same volunteers have skill sets and knowledge that they, in turn, can also bring to their families and places of work ensuring a safer and more secure community. The exposure to other people and the complexity of life is truly eye opening, and yes many times we get reminded how lucky we are.

There is always a need more volunteers & we need more people trained with up to date skill sets and experiences that reflect best practices & that are aligned with law enforcement & security agencies protocols.

As for me, I go to my own synagogue earlier each week to make sure that I don’t miss my time slot on the security roster. It makes me feel like I am giving a contribution that matters and my community reminds me that it does matter.


About the Author
Zalman Myer-Smith is the Executive Director of a Florida based volunteer Community Security Organization liaising, training, and working with law enforcement agencies and serving Jewish community synagogues, schools, and centers. Zalman is also the Director of Security for Chabad of Florida.
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