Last month I wrote about rising anti-Semitism and recent attacks against Jews in America and abroad (Jewish Echo, Vol 2., Issue 60). In that column, I posed the question of what should we do.
Our local New York City Councilmember, Jumaane Williams (D, 45th district), recently asked a packed gathering of local Jewish leaders, “Who here thinks there will be no more attacks?” Not a single hand was raised. Unfortunately, the consensus is that we can expect more incidents to be perpetrated against our community. Again, I ask, what should we do?
Our approach and plans must be reexamined to be able to address multiple types of threats and the current security needs—especially those we may not have considered or were aware of before now. Fortunately, concerned residents in Marine Park have had the foresight to bring in the relevant professionals to help our community effectively increase our security and safety measures.
Lay leaders of Jewish institutions in Marine Park and environs recently met with former members of Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) who specialize in protecting facilities such as synagogues, churches, and schools. They consulted with us about how we can address the rising threat levels as well as our ongoing security and safety needs. What I heard and observed at that meeting was both eye-opening and jaw-dropping. In short, we have to change how we think about security and safety. This will have a substantial impact on the training we undertake, the protocols we implement, and the measures we put in place. While I cannot publish the strategies and ideas presented to us, I did get permission to share a few scenarios to help better describe the need to rethink the way we prepare for crises. After describing each scenario, detailed, effective solutions were discussed.
When you plan your security protocols and procedures, have you considered a broad span of emergencies or limited them to a few? I must say that given what I have seen in that meeting, I now realize that the lingo and scope that we use and are exposed to in the media and other forums, for dozens of years, may be limited and lacking. Another key issue is the lack of true practice. Detailed, effective concepts were discussed in that meeting. For example, we have all learned that the primary goal during a fire drill is to evacuate the building as quickly and as safely as possible. Is that still the best conceivable option? Is it sufficiently comprehensive or does it address narrow needs only?
At the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the fire alarm went off. As the students evacuated, Nikolas Cruz shot and killed seventeen students and faculty and wounded 15 others in only six minutes. If you were tasked with preparing a procedure to address this type of emergency while adhering to current fire code, what steps might be taken to mitigate the loss of life? A detailed analysis of this attack was also presented and is available to those interested.
Here is another scenario described to us, and I caution the reader to skip this paragraph. My voice faltered as I described it to my wife. Imagine that a lockdown has been announced at a school because of an imminent threat inside the school. A teacher has successfully locked and secured her classroom door. Then she looks through the glass door pane, and, to her horror, she sees a child crying in the middle of the wide hallway. He is standing frozen in place. Does she open the door and try to bring him into safety? Or is her responsibility to the children who are already in the classroom behind locked doors? Is there anything else she can do? As the security liaison working to plan for this, what procedure would you put into place for that possibility?
When we are sitting in our shuls on Shabbos morning, wrapped in a tallis and focusing on our davening, what should we do if we hear gunshots? Where should we go? What can we do to prevent things from getting that far? Are we aware of how to not further compromise our safety during such situations? Is a security guard enough? Does it help if the guard does not know what to do if there is an emergency? Is he properly trained? Do you know what is required for an armed guard to be properly trained?
Borough President Eric Adams suggested that parishioners who are licensed to carry a firearm bring it with them to their houses of worship. I was there when he made that announcement at a press conference, right after the Pittsburgh massacre. What do you think of his idea? What happens after your friendly neighborhood gunslinger has had a few drinks at the kiddush in the absence of proper, applicable protocols in place? What should we do about houses of worship which do not happen to have armed members?
I urge you to start talking about what it means to be secure with your family and community.
Be proactive, be aware, and stay safe.