April 12, 2024
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April 12, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Golden (Security) Ticket

Every year, my family stays by my grandparents in Teaneck for the Yamim Noraim. I could gush for hours about my grandmother’s mouth-watering delicacies and my grandfather’s sagely advice and stories, not to mention my uncle’s wry and excellent sense of humor. But this past Rosh Hashanah what struck me the most was the security procedures their shul had implemented. Congregation Bnei Yeshurun not only hired professional security and had members act as security guards at the door, but also required every congregant to have a ticket to enter the shul. The tickets were simple slips of paper with the shul’s logo, a Shana Tova message, and a picture of an apple dipped in honey. (As I write this a few days before Yom Kippur, I’m going to guess that the design will be a little different for the fast day.) But if you didn’t have one, then in the morning you might have a hard time entering the shul if you weren’t recognized by one of the shul member security guards.

The whole ticket procedure at CBY got me thinking. In recent years, our Jewish community in general has been ramping up security. There have been far too many terrible incidents around the country and the world for us to feel comfortable holding large events without any external protection. For instance, my own school–Ramaz–has always had security guards out front. But this year, they’ve occasionally been joined by an NYPD officer who patrols and watches right outside the building. I’ve never felt unsafe at Ramaz, but given its location in Manhattan, it’s always made sense to me that they’ve had security. And while I don’t know as much about the schools around Bergen County, I’ve heard that many of them are also taking more steps to be safer.

We want to feel safe, to feel secure, and to not fear from being attacked. That’s just natural. But how much is too much? Antisemitism, sadly, can happen anywhere. There have been far too many stories in the news lately of slurs hurled at unsuspecting Jews, of rallies against Israel, even of horrific murders such as those in Toulouse, France a few years back. But is there a point where we’re being too paranoid, and by ramping up security we’re detracting from our community? We can’t live in fear, otherwise we’ll never do anything, achieve anything new, or have any massive gathering that could make a difference. Just look at the rallies for Israel this past summer! Obviously they were well-protected, and they were massively successful. But I’m concerned that we could reach the point where we fear even to attempt those types of events. If we overthink it, we could end up seeing only the worse-case scenarios where everything goes wrong and someone, God forbid, ends up injured or dead. And that could really stop us from doing anything meaningful, just because we’re too afraid to try.

But on the other hand, there’s the legitimate feeling that we try to keep ourselves safer to prevent an episode that could not only compel us to ramp up security anyway, but also traumatize us as a community. The quintessential example of this is 9/11. I was too young to remember the time before that terrible day–and I have no recollection of the day itself–but I live through its repercussions and consequences far too often, whether by passing through a metal detector at a museum or having a guard check my bag at the ballpark. And yet because the terrible attack did happen, we’ve learned to combat terrorism by being far more careful.

Basically, I feel conflicted about the security and precautions we surround ourselves with as a community. On one hand, it could become too excessive to the point where we accomplish far less. But it also keeps us safe enough that we can still do the things we want without the risk of anything traumatic, and that’s probably more important. Overall, I think that we need to find a balance when it comes to security in the Jewish community, where we’re not afraid and uber-paranoid but where we still have the peace of mind that we’ll all be safe. And I applaud places like Congregation Bnei Yeshurun and Ramaz that may have stepped up their security but haven’t rolled back all of the wonderful things they do.

Oren Oppenheim, age 16, lives in Fair Lawn, New Jersey and is a junior at Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan. He spends his free time writing and reading, and hopes to become a published novelist. You can email him at [email protected].

By Oren Oppenheim

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