On March 20, 1994, two Skinheads shot several rounds from a high-powered semi-automatic rifle into the stained glass windows of a Eugene, Oregon, synagogue. The shooters were sentenced to terms of 54 and 57 months imprisonment. (The Skinhead International: The United States)
At least in some ways keeping synagogues (and other institutions) safe from neo-Nazi attacks is easier than keeping them safe from Muslim terrorists. While nearly all Muslims are good people, neo-Nazis are, by definition bad people. They are easier to identify and keeping surveillance on them does not have the same civil rights problems that keeping track of those who affiliate with gangs or other violent groups.
Not all threats to synagogues are violent, of course. Synagogues, like other houses of worship -- and other buildings of course -- are subject to theft and other forms of non-violent "assault" like tagging. While these are serious, they are less so (obviously) than violent attacks and so should take lower priority. Moreover, in working to protect a synagogue against violent attacks one is also working to protect against lower-level attacks.
Working Hand in Hand
As noted above, the best way to ensure the security of any building is for its inhabitants or users to work closely together with first-responders. Those who use a building are aware of the routines of the place -- for example, when it will be empty. On the other hand, they may be relatively unaware of the ways in which they may be vulnerable to attack. Blending the knowledge of users of the rhythms of their building with the knowledge of security risks and security measures that first responders have is an excellent way to make a plan that will provide the greatest level of security possible.
Those who use a building, like a synagogue, that may be subject to attack, should be as aware of their surroundings as possible. The rabbis below may be taking things a little farther than most would in terms of trying to protect themselves, but the basic idea is a good one. So long as one stays away from vigilantism, it can be very empowering for people to work to provide security for themselves.
Fearing jihadists will attack synagogues during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a group of badass rabbis has developed a program to turn your average shul-goer into a lean, mean fighting machine.
The group, which calls itself the International Security Coalition of Clergy, was founded by Rabbi Gary Moscowitz, who boasts a black belt in karate, teaches martial arts and was an NYPD cop for nine years.
He's teaching others basic and advanced fighting moves -- how to take down a terrorist by the neck, how to use a table as cover from gunfire and how to execute a nifty running somersault while drawing a gun -- that he says can be used by Jews if they're attacked by terrorists during prayer.
"We have to be our first responders," Moscowitz told the Post in the video below. "The reason why we have to be our first responders is because even if the police were trained properly by the time they show up we'll all be dead. Even if they show up in three minutes, which is great timing here, a guy with a machine gun could kill everyone." (Hawkins)
Letting professionals -- whether police and other first-responders or private security firm personnel -- do their job is important since they have the experience, expertise, and weaponry needed to do so.
This is why it is imperative for synagogue members to convey any possible threat to police as soon as possible and to ask for extra protection during any time when members might be especially vulnerable. Such times of vulnerability are the High Holidays, but they might also include big parties such as those held for a wedding or a bas mitzvah. While the police will be aware of when the holidays are (although they might have to be reminded of the dates), they will not in general be aware of large gatherings at the synagogue on other days unless they are informed by the members.
Internal conditions such as congregation-specific events can raise the risk for those attending a synagogue, but other events may be keyed to events beyond the local community. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) notes that part of keeping a synagogue safe requires that members be attuned to what is happening in the world at large. Keeping an ear to international news can be important since extremists in the community might be "inspired" by international events.
Congregation members can make it a regular practice to check in with their local police as well as the regional office of the ADL to determine if there is any information about possible local risks. Risk assessment by synagogue officials and members must also include an assessment of members and programs that might provoke an attack. For example, if a member of the synagogue writes a blog in which he says things that could be interpreted as anti-Muslim, then this action might prompt someone to attack the synagogue. Likewise, if the rabbi and other synagogue members are working with local Muslim leaders to create authentic dialogue, this might also provoke anger in extremists and so would be a red flag for synagogue leaders that extra security might be required.
One of the questions that synagogue leaders must consider is how widely they want to "advertise" the presence of a synagogue. Should there be a large sign welcoming new members and the community at large? Should the nature of the building be kept as tacit as possible? This is a decision that extends far beyond the practical because it calls into question the type of institution that the synagogue wants to be, how welcoming it wishes to be to the community in general. The degree to which the synagogue wants to make its self felt in the community does not necessarily stay at a constant level and may have to be changed over time as the community and the neighborhood changes. For example, if a family planning clinic were to move onto the same block, it would be likely to attract extremists, which might in turn threaten the synagogue.
While it is not reasonable to expect civilians to protect themselves on their own, synagogue users should be aware of the ways in which it might be possible to protect themselves in the time before first-responders to appear. Safety is based in no small measure on the ability to predict potential risks and so planning ahead for possible dangers is an important step that members of the synagogue can take. Police are generally very willing to work with members of the community to help learn how to keep themselves as safe as possible. Among the basic but important plans that the members of this synagogue can take are to have an established evacuation plan and a site for people to meet afterwards to ensure that everyone is out of the building and safe. This seems elemental, but it can be lifesaving. And -- of course -- it is an excellent plan to have in any case, such as the need to evacuate in case of a fire.
Establishing a safe evacuation route is a relatively easy measure to take because it does not deeply affect the congregations sense of self. An evacuation plan seems innocuous -- like the fire drills of elementary school. But other, more seemingly invasive measures must also be put into place, such as training ushers (or others who help organize each service) to recognize suspicious behavior. Simply watching out for people who are unknown to the congregation can be extremely helpful, although again this vigilance must be balanced against putting up barriers to those who have a legitimate reason to be entering the synagogue.
"You don't want iron gates and armed guards, but houses of worship do need to train staff, congregants and ushers to identify and respond to such threats as an emotionally disturbed person," said Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Secure Community Network (SCN), a Jewish security organization [and] & #8230; innovative leader in securing Jewish houses of worship through public-private partnerships.
The group receives sensitive information on threats to the Jewish community around-the-clock, which it then disseminates to its members. Goldenberg adds that the SCN is the first nongovernmental organization to have a memorandum of understanding with the New York City Police Department.
The group is also working with the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate its house of worship training. The most important step a house of worship can take is to train its staff to handle threatening situations and to ensure that they are able to operate any security equipment the building has, says Goldenberg, who was part of a south Florida undercover strike force for several years. (Hawkins)
The above citation suggests two important aspects of providing security for synagogues. The first of these…