Texas synagogue attack leads to calls for more federal funding for security

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Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who was taken hostage last weekend at his synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, credits safety training with helping save his life and that of his followers.

That’s how he knew “to do everything you can”, as he said The New York Times. So he grabbed a chair and threw it at the gunman, allowing him and the other hostages to escape.

The incident underscored the importance of safety training for Jewish places of worship, as well as its already routine nature. Jewish leaders and security experts have worked for decades to provide this kind of support to synagogues across the country and help Jews overcome the tension between security and openness.

While some American Jews recall security measures at their synagogues as early as the 1990s – and European Jews date the increased security from the 1980 Paris synagogue bombing – a widespread surge and concerted effort to secure Jewish facilities in the United States began in the early 2000s, said Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Jewish Federations of North America.

Just as 9/11 was a wake-up call for the nation, it forced American Jews to recognize that they, too, could be targets of an attack, he said. In 2004, the Jewish Federations of North America helped found Secure Community Network, one of the organizations from which Rabbi Cytron-Walker received security training.

Since the Pittsburgh Tree of Life shooting in October 2018, there has been a “vast acceleration” in security efforts, said Fingerhut, who added that, for the American Jewish community, October 27, 2018 was like another 11 September.

The recent increase in anti-Semitic incidents has only heightened that sense of urgency, Fingerhut said, pointing to the 2019 shooting attack at a Jersey City kosher market and, weeks later, the knife attack at a Rabbi’s Hannukah party in Monsey, New York, among other events.

Following these acts of violence, Fingerhut said, “We felt that the pace at which we were building our security network was not fast enough.”

Coordinating with law enforcement — a form of government support that Jews have lacked in many other countries — has been a critical part of keeping American Jewry safe.

“Historically, Jews could not always rely on governments to support them,” said Richard Priem, deputy national director of the Community Safety Service, an organization that since its inception in 2007 has provided safety training to Jewish people. Jewish community volunteers who work closely with the law. enforcement.

Priem, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, added that he didn’t need to go back that far to when Dutch police kicked his grandparents out of their home. Recent history is replete with examples of Jews not receiving support from law enforcement.

Whereas “in the United States we have a very good relationship with law enforcement…they can’t be everywhere at the same time,” Priem said.

This is where trained volunteers come in. As members of the community, these volunteers know its members and its rhythms, so they are more sensitive when something is wrong, he said.

But when Priem speaks to Jewish communities, he emphasizes that protecting yourself does not mean “turning your place of worship into a bunker. … (We) want to be both safe and inclusive.

Fingerhut said the overarching goal of the security measures is to ensure the continuity of Jewish life, which is built around community and communal worship.

The Jewish commandments “are not only about prayer and celebration; it’s about giving to each other and caring for each other. You can’t do it alone,” he said. “We need you to participate in the community and to do so safely.”

Prior to the incident at Colleyville’s Congregation Beth Israel, the Jewish Federations of North America launched LiveSecure, a multimillion-dollar campaign aimed at strengthening security measures in Jewish communities across North America.

“We have no time to waste when it comes to securing the Jewish community,” Fingerhut said in a press release. “This is just the latest stark example of why the federations are working to extend communal security services to all Jewish communities nationwide through our LiveSecure initiative.”

Currently, the federal government’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program provides $180 million to nonprofit organizations, including places of worship, to improve and enhance their security. Following last week’s incident in Texas, the Jewish Federations of North America is calling on Congress to double that amount to $360 million.

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