It’s still dangerous to be Jewish
Two years ago, the calm of a Shabbat morning was broken when a gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and opened fire. Eleven individuals were killed that day while praying — murdered simply for being Jewish.
Since the Pittsburgh attack, the Jewish community has faced three additional deadly attacks in the United States, and law enforcement has disrupted more than two dozen plots aimed at Jewish organizations around the country, mostly from white extremists. At the same time, we have faced a historic increase in anti-Semitism: Last year, over 58 percent of all religiously motivated hate crimes were directed at the Jewish community.
While many Jewish communities and organizations long have made investments to secure themselves — and since Pittsburgh there has been a significant investment — the reality we face as a faith-based community requires much more.
My nonprofit organization, the Secure Community Network (SCN), formed by The Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, serves as the official safety and security organization of the Jewish community in North America. Our mission is to ensure the safety and security of the Jewish community. We work with law enforcement and other key partners across the United States and Canada to prepare and protect the Jewish community across North America from all forms of threats.
Since Pittsburgh, Jewish groups have sought more personnel and training to prevent attacks. They need best-practice, comprehensive, professionally-led programs to face what federal law enforcement describes as the most dynamic and complex threat environment to face the United States. We saw the difference this made in Pittsburgh, where training was happening before the attack: while 11 lives were taken, dozens survived. The rabbi, the first to call 911, said training is the reason he brought his cell phone with him to services.
We weren’t prepared, nationally, though.
At the time of the Pittsburgh attack, fewer than 7 percent of Jewish communities in North America were working with a dedicated security professional. In the past two years, that percentage has grown substantially: Over 68 percent of communities — urban, suburban and rural — now have access to a security professional. Portland, Denver, Indianapolis, Memphis, Sarasota and South Palm Beach County, for example, created security programs and joined the ranks of longstanding programs in places such as Los Angeles, Detroit, Atlanta and Boston.
This increase in security largely has been achieved through regional and community security programs. Modeled after Department of Homeland Security best practices, led at the local level by Jewish federations, these programs appoint a security professional to oversee development, organization, implementation and monitoring of safety and security. Since its creation in June 2018, over 85 percent of new locally-based security professionals in the United States have been initiated through this model — largely to communities that were unserved or underserved by security. The team consists of current and former intelligence, security, law enforcement and military personnel.
We must ensure that Jewish life not only exists but flourishes; that no member of the Jewish community questions whether it is safe to walk into a synagogue, drop their kids off at a Jewish day school, or attend programs at a community center.
We won’t know the time and place of the next attack, if one happens, but we can prepare by implementing physical security and training employees, members and congregants in synagogues, community centers, schools, campus organizations, and camps on how to prevent attacks and what to do in case of an attack.
For thousands of years, the Jewish people have been threatened, but the community proudly survives — and thrives. Security growth comes at a time of need, as a rise in anti-Semitism has plagued the United States. We are working to protect as many children, congregants, seniors and rabbis as possible. The Jewish community is constantly under threat. We must make it safe to be Jewish in America again.
Michael Masters, a homeland security and law enforcement official and former captain in the Marine Corps, is national director and CEO of the Secure Community Network. He previously served on the executive board of the FBI’s Chicago Joint Terrorism Task Force.