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

What a Small and Unsafe World We Live In.

What a small world we live in. For the Jewish community, this is so very true. Jews are understandably very sensitive when negative situations occur to fellow Jews wherever they reside. The stabbing death of renowned highly trained Israeli community leader Ari Fuld, HYD, just before Yom Kippur, the day of atonement was ushered in, sent a dark tsunami of pain, heartache, and despair among Jews the world over.

The communal response quickly evolved into one of action. Many acts of kindness, resolutions were made with special emphasis on continuing to protect the rights and people of Israel and Jews the world over. Countless people were emboldened to participate in so many acts of unity and goodness. This response is all too common after such tragically devastating events.

The last series of holidays (Sukkot and Simchat Torah) are known as the days of Joy and are the culmination of the preceding Days of Awe (Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur) that bring in and sanctify the Jewish new year. We pray for a year of long lives filled with only blessings, however sometimes our requests are not fulfilled.

I was always intrigued by a special day called Hoshana Rabba which is recounted as being the day when G-d decides on whether or not we are worthy of the blessing of seasonal rains. To implore G-d, this is a mini-holiday within itself where extra prayers are invoked.

One of the most intriguing commentaries on this day (already enveloped within the holy intermediate days of Sukkot) is that the “notes go out”. This refers to the inscription that G-d, so to speak, makes when deciding the individual fate of each living creature for the coming year. One naturally takes these emotionally and spiritually packed few weeks very seriously.

Imagine the shock, particularly to the Chicago Jewish community, right after the last two and most joyous days of Yom Tov (Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah) ended when the horrific news came in of the murder of a young and popular young man who happened to be walking home in a Jewish neighborhood of West Rogers Park in Chicago . At this time, it is an open criminal investigation and one of the main leads points towards a “serial” killer who shot him at random.

These terrible tragedies have ripped at the hearts of Jews the world over, particularly in the United States. The victim Eliyahu Moscowitz HYD was well known as a fine young man who had a sweet demeanor and was happy to help anyone. The Moscowitz family have a storied history as community leaders, Chabad Shluchim and educators who have helped build and sustain the wider Jewish community.

As human beings we live in a world of action; or if we choose inaction. One can only feel compelled and charged to take positive and proactive action.

Our organization, The CSO got asked by community leaders and members for practical steps in preventing and dealing with such a “random” attack.

HRH the Prince of Wales was famously quoted as saying “if my name is on a bullet, there is not much I can do”. I would beg to differ, as I am sure would his police protection team who work around the clock to protect him and his family and indeed would be willing to take a bullet for him if need be. While most of us are not afforded police or private security protection, there are active efforts we can and must take to safeguard ourselves and each other.

I believe in G-d and His providence and there are numerous times I do not understand (or try to understand) G-d’s will or processes. It’s beyond me on so many levels. However, I do think we have a practical duty to do our part by having basic systems and protocols in place to stay safe as individuals and as a community, wherever we reside or visit across the world.

Here are some common sense practical tips that we can all use

1. Travel in groups – One of our amazing volunteers was robbed at an ATM several years ago (before he received training or was involved with our organization). He asked me what should he have done? He was at the ATM at night and was armed himself. He pulled up to the ATM and 2 males pulled up either side of him and both pointed guns from other side of his car. He wisely felt unable to draw on two drawn guns and handed over his wallet. His question to me was, “what should I have done differently?” My initial response was “don’t go to an ATM at night.”  One should plan ahead for such things. In a recent study, it showed that there was a very high percentage of attacks/robberies at bank ATM’s and at gas stations, particularly at night. Obviously, the “bad guys” know this too and seem to find “prey” at such locations. If you must travel at night, try to travel with a friend or in a group. This helps mitigate (but not fully!) the chance of an attack.

2. Take a Krav Maga class – even just a few classes. It teaches you to be aware of your surroundings, you learn the physiology of a victim and an attacker and how to identify pre-attack signs and more vitally responses. You will also learn about situational awareness, a key street and life survival tool.

3. Plan out a visit – Let the person at the site or venue you are traveling to or from know your estimated time of arrival (ETA) and also expected time of departure.

4. Learn about natural weapons – Chairs, barriers, extinguishers, keys and even a vehicle.    You can also by pepper spray or a taser device, but each item requires training and has limitations on an attacker or multiple attackers.

5. Consider your route – Is it well lit? Are there any planned events there that might have more people?

6. Don’t get in a car with a stranger – We get taught this as kids, but in the Uber/ Lyft generation we live in, this has become the norm.

7. Always have available communications – Make sure your cell phone is fully charged before you go out and that you have enough gas in your vehicle.

8. For concealed weapon carriers – If you can and do (legally) carry a firearm, make sure it is secure and that you have more than sufficient training. That’s not just shooting at paper at the range once every other month. Carrying any weapon without knowing how to retain it or to defend yourself or others if it is forcibly taken away from you is very irresponsible.

9. Have a code word – to use if you are in distress to share with a friend or relative on the phone. (e.g.“I’m on my way to see Uncle Shmuly” or similar “normal” message.

10. Walk with confidence – Do not do the zombie stare at your phone as you walk. You are asking to be mugged or attacked as you have no situational awareness and are a        walking victim.

11.  Have a plan to get away – Carry a little money separate from your other funds in an accessible place. I used to carry a 2nd wallet with old credit cards and $20 in singles just to throw at and distract a mugger if need be. There are some situations where it pays to get away from the scene as quickly and as safely as possible. Plus the attacker gets distracted and you can take advantage of that based on your training, experience and specific situational circumstances.

12) Use your gut instinct – If you sense something is wrong, it more than likely is and won’t get any better until you remove yourself safely from that situation.

13) If attacked – If someone tries to grab you, make a scene. Scream, kick, fight . . . do what you can to get away and attract attention. The best fighters know to not fight and de-escalation is a great and critical survival tool. However, there are sometimes where you have no choice, so you had better have learned some skills and be able to apply aggression to resolve the situation.

Just as we (hopefully) have working smoke alarms and extinguishers in our homes and places of work to detect and deal with a fire, we cannot sit idly and ignore our personal, family and community security. Our collective responsibility is to have a well planned, practiced and legal plan of action to protect ourselves and the ones we love.

While the mourning continues for Eliyahu Moscowitz HYD and Ari Fuld HYD we should only make extra efforts to try to mitigate or minimize such tragedies, wherever we can.

May their memories be a blessing for us all and more vitally, may we take ACTION in keeping ourselves and each other safe.

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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