Fast Guard

A lot of people in Jewish communities throughout the United States are on edge in recent years, due to a precipitous rise in the number of attacks on Jewish institutions, including synagogues. For example, last March, an apparent bullet hole was found in a Hebrew school classroom at Temple Adath B’nai Israel in Evansville, Indiana. That is but one incident, however. According to reports, Jewish organizations of all types face increasing numbers of all types of threats from all sorts of groups, including far-right nationalists and neo-Nazis, radical Islamists and far-left anti-Israel activists. More than a few synagogues have reported shooting incidents, not unlike the one in Evansville, and the nervousness has led to a precipitous rise of synagogue security services.

Since the election of President Donald Trump, violence against all sorts of minorities has been on the rise nationwide, but Jews have been among the most targeted groups. According to tracking done by a number of organizations, including the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), more than 1,250 incidents of anti-Jewish violence were recorded in 2016 alone, and while numbers for 2017 are not final, the numbers recorded by April of last year was 86 percent higher than that. That number included bomb threats, vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, and physical violence.

This sustained and very significant increase in anti-Semitic activity over the past two years has increased the anxiety levels in many Jewish communities in the last two years, which is understandable in light of events such as the events in Charlottesville, Virginia last year, in which large groups of white supremacists and new-Nazis marched through town chanting, “Jews will not replace us” and the German Nazi slogan, “blood and soil.” That march coincided with Shabbat prayer services at the local Congregation Beth Israel synagogue, where the people praying inside were confronted with a scene out of a horror movie, in which men waving flags decorated with swastikas marched by the building, yelling, “There’s the synagogue!” and “Seig Heil!” as they walked by.

At least one synagogue security service has been very active in trying to keep Jewish people safe. Over the past year or so, one organization, Community Security Service (CSS), has sent most of their 4,000 volunteers into Jewish communities all over the country, from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC to California, to train the people who work in synagogues, day schools, and other Jewish institutions, safe.

These days, at synagogues all over the country, it is not unusual to see uniformed off-duty police officers, who are being paid by the synagogues to be a presence in the area and perhaps to direct traffic. At the same time, CSS volunteers equipped with walk-in-talkies with earpieces, stand in strategic locations, monitoring foot traffic for potential threats. Before services, many volunteers may sweep the synagogue, looking for suspicious objects.

Synagogue security services are popping up all over, and they are training everyone in the shul to be more alert to their surroundings and to be more situationally aware. They are well-trained themselves, but they are also trying to encourage regular congregants to alert the security personnel to anything suspicious they see, whether it is a vehicle that is parked in an odd place or a person or group of people who don’t seem to belong.

It is expected that the number of synagogue security services will continue to increase, as the ADL is advising that security should be a year-round priority for Jewish groups. The ADL also provides a security manual for just such a purpose, and they also encourage synagogues to directly connect with local law enforcement. We also think that professional security companies can greatly contribute to the effort of keeping synagogues safe by sharing their knowledge and methods, and therefore synagogues should seek their additional assistance.