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It’s Time to Address Synagogue Security

On December 19, The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey along with the Orthodox Union, Community Security Service (CSS) and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office will host an informational forum regarding security issues in Northern New Jersey, 

specifically at synagogues in Bergen County. Given the current climate and obvious rise in anti-Semitic threats throughout the nation, these organizations are working together to implement increased security measures for our local synagogues.

“The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey is all about working to benefit the Jewish community,” says Debbie Gottlieb, manager of the Kehillah Cooperative Community Purchasing Department. “Security forums such as this one provide critical support and guidance to Jewish organizations to help achieve our goal of keeping our community safe and informed.”

The program will include current assessments of security risks in New Jersey and what law enforcement is doing to help keep our schools, synagogues and communities safe. CSS representatives will provide practical information about synagogue safety policies and offer people an opportunity to get involved with security committees.

“We are thankful for the Bergen County Prosecutor’s office and to our local law enforcement partners who care greatly about the Jewish community. This upcoming security forum is going to be an important event for the community,” expressed Deena Seelenfreund, CSS NJ Regional Manager. “At CSS, our primary concept is empowering congregants of each and every community to be a part of security solutions. No one knows what “normal” is at a congregation like a congregant. We harness this power and use it proactively to identify trouble. Our volunteers are still reeling from the tragic attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue, and copycat attacks are a real concern,” she added.

The FBI recently arrested 21-year-old Damon Joseph who was inspired by the Pittsburgh attack. He admitted to planning a mass shooting at a synagogue in Ohio during Shabbat services. He identified several target synagogues and was conducting research to determine when and which one would have the most people present. As part of their service, CSS trains volunteers to proactively look for signs of trouble, to identify the type of suspicious behavior that a would-be attacker would display while conducting surveillance or staging for an attack. Part of the goal, explains Seelenfreund, is to create an infrastructure of deterrence rather than reacting to emergencies. “Knowledge is power, and by educating ourselves and becoming security-savvy we will all be able to better protect our communities.”

Security at a house of worship is sadly a necessity that can no longer be overlooked. Officials believe each synagogue should have a security committee and an open line of communication to handle any potential crisis. “In the 21st century, unfortunately, it remains of paramount importance for the Jewish community to remain vigilant in defending ourselves. Although we have tremendous support from our elected officials and law enforcement, and despite a culture of wide acceptance of Jews and Jewish culture, there are still too many evildoers out there that wish to do us harm. Every synagogue must have a security committee to provide some deterrence against these threats. We also have to have places and opportunities, like this forum, for us to communicate with each other and ensure that every Jewish congregant can feel secure in our synagogues,” said Rabbi Avi Heller, regional director of Local Synagogues in New Jersey and Rockland County.

Through the collaboration of these community organizations alongside law enforcement, the hope is to form a network that will facilitate real-time communication between Bergen County synagogues, thereby ensuring the safety of its members. The event is open to the entire community and will be held at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, 50 Eisenhower Drive in Paramus, from 7-9 p.m.

By Andrea Nissel

 

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