The last few weeks have been challenging and difficult for everyone involved in synagogue life. The tragic shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, as well as the uptick in anti-Semitic crimes, have put us all on edge. Many of our kehillot have held emergency meetings to look at security plans, decide on possible security upgrades and determine what could be done to make their synagogue communities safer. Our staff has received dozens of calls from kehillot looking for guidance regarding security, on such topics as low-cost ways to enhance synagogue safety, how to create an emergency plan and how to form a synagogue security committee.
As synagogue safety is an ongoing issue, we are dedicated to being at the forefront of timely and relevant resources and advice. This will include scheduling webinars and trainings on security-related topics in the upcoming weeks. We will also include a regular column dedicated to security in our bi-weekly leadership newsletter, Leadership Matters.
Additionally, we recently sent our kehilla leaders a Facility Assessment Tool from our partner Security Community Network (SCN). This resource is a great tool to critically evaluate your building and neighborhood. You can use what you learn from this assessment to create a a personalized security plan that fit your specific synagogue’s needs. If you have not yet, we recommend that you download the resource and complete it with your local police department. As you do, keep these first step suggestions in mind:
- Assign a primary contact person. It’s important to designate and publicize a contact person that the police, FBI or anyone else could reach in case of an emergency.
- Assess your communication systems. What system do you have in place in the event that you need to reach your community members?
- Review your building access policy. One of the primary issues we face is the ease of access. While it might involve a change in culture, it is worthwhile to limit access to the building to just one door.
- Connect with your local Jewish Federation. Many local Federations have a security liaison for the community and work directly with local law enforcement, DHS, and the FBI. Make sure you take advantage of any briefings, trainings, etc. that they may provide.
- Meet with your local police department. Make sure they are aware of and working your kehilla. How can your local police force help you assess your security needs? Do they have up-to-date blueprints of your building?
We encourage you to reach out to Barry Mael, USCJ’s Senior Director of Kehilla Affiliations and Operations, with any questions related to safety and security.You can also join the conversation with other synagogue leaders in the Synagogue Security Forum on USCJ’s digital community platform, The Commons.
Additionally, we recommend reading these helpful resources:
- Secure Community Network (SCN): Resources for Houses of Worship (USCJ is a member organization of SCN)
- FEMA: Resources to Protect Your House of Worship
- FEMA: Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans
- JCRC: 5 steps for making your facility safer and more secure
- DHS: Houses of Worship Security Practices Guide
- The Commons: Synagogue Security Resource Library