Although the local Jewish community has never had any serious security issues, except for the occasional suspicious package or hate graffiti, events that have transpired as of late started to make the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys think about enhancing its security efforts for the community.
“Everyone believes that security awareness and preparation are important, but to what extent?” explained Jason Moss, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation. “It’s scary, and people don’t want to think about it. They don’t want our institution’s buildings to become fortresses, but if people need to feel safe, then something has to give.”
The Jewish Federation recently announced its development of a community security plan. This plan ensured that the Jewish Federation and its community partners were doing everything possible to help keep the community safe. It also encouraged open communication about the security plan with all members, so they would feel safe attending services or events.
Previously, there were plans to prepare professionals in all of the local Jewish institutions to deal with security-related incidents, but then COVID hit, and most events were canceled. Moss realized that security would not be the top priority of the institutions once they came back from COVID restrictions, but he knew that they had to think about it.
“The biggest thing is to change the culture of how people view security – how the institutions can remain welcoming and inviting but be as secure as possible,” Moss said. “People can grieve for the days of innocence before there were security concerns, but we have to find ways to be safe.”
He added, “We have to stop thinking about “if” an incident will happen, but “when” it will happen. It’s OK if security training is not needed after people learn how to do it, in the same way people are trained in First Aid/CPR. We like to think of our plan as a security insurance policy that people never have to cash in.”
The Jewish Federation is working with Secure Community Network (SCN) to coordinate a comprehensive approach to the entire process. The plan looks at every single avenue of what can be done, including institutions working with their local law enforcement to conduct threat assessments and to share their building maps, and conducting trainings. Working hand in hand with the FBI and local law enforcement and training personnel at various facilities, the plan is designed to keep facilities protected and the members of the organizations safe.
For the High Holidays the plan is for facilities to notify local law enforcement to be especially vigilant, but to remind each synagogue to train volunteers to look for signs of problems. “It’s like what Israeli airports do – be friendly but observational,” Moss explained.
Jewish Federation is coordinating a series of security trainings with SCN for community members. The first round focuses on being alert and aware of your surroundings, no matter where you are. The second round focuses on what to do during an active shooter threat, and the third will include how to help victims who are injured during an attack. This training will take place in-person in two different locations – one in the west and one in the east – and will include life hands-on drills.
Over the last several years, most of the synagogues in the area obtained federal funds to harden and strengthen their facilities, to keep people safe. The Jewish Federation is hoping that this community security plan, in addition to the federal funds the synagogues have received will help ensure that money does not continue to be a roadblock to keeping the community safe. The Jewish Federation of North America is lobbying for an increase in federal funding for the benefit of the whole country to keep houses of worship safe.
Moss described the security plan as a blueprint in which the community is “constantly working at it and then moving on to the next step.” He concluded, “We have to get past being scared, hurt, and sad, and embrace the commitment to take security seriously and feel safe.”
Ilene Schneider IS a contributing writer to JTA and Jlife Magazine.