(NEW YORK) — Recent attacks on Jewish institutions — including the 10 a.m. hostage crisis at a Texas synagogue on Jan. 15 — have cast a shadow over even entering a Jewish institution.
Faith-based attacks have forced community leaders to prioritize safety and security measures to maintain their ability to pray, gather and practice their faith, said Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, at ABC News.
“It’s nothing new,” Fingerhut said. “This has been a particularly violent period of attacks on Jewish institutions and on the Jewish community.”
On January 15, an armed suspect who claimed to have bombs took a rabbi and three others hostage at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who was held hostage, told reporters that his training with the Jewish-run security training organization Secure Community Network helped get his worshipers out safely.
Since anti-Semitism is still present in the United States, protecting its congregation is essential, say community leaders. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) tracked 2,024 anti-Semitic incidents in 2020, the third highest year on record since the organization began tracking such incidents in 1979.
Faith-based communities will ‘likely’ continue to be targets of violence ‘both by domestic violent extremists and those inspired by foreign terrorists’, according to a memo sent Monday to law enforcement officials and places of worship of the country by the FBI and the Department. internal security.
“The fact that he was trained like so many clergy and other communal leaders in active fire drills, in hostage crises, and how to deal with terrorist scenarios unfolding in your synagogue.. .it’s actually no surprise,” the ADL CEO said. and national manager Jonathan Greenblatt told ABC News.
“We are in an environment where whether you run a synagogue or a JCC [Jewish community center] or a day school or a summer camp, you have to act and be vigilant because of the very real threat of violence,” Greenblatt said.
The Secure Community Network is a national security initiative made up of former high-level law enforcement officials who work in 146 federations and more than 300 individual groups. They train religious leaders in threat and vulnerability assessments, as well as training and exercise programs.
Brad Orsini, the organization’s senior national security adviser, said that in Texas, leaders learned basic situational awareness: what to look for, what suspicious behavior might look like. They also engaged in active shooter formation, counteracting active threat formation and rescue formation to stop the bleeding.
“We’re really teaching this community the tools to stay alive for three to five minutes before law enforcement arrives,” Orsini told ABC News. “Law enforcement isn’t there when an incident happens, so we need to know those initial steps to keep ourselves alive.”
The organization said it also provides a 24/7 analyst who is on alert for security threats across the country.
Safety and security training is beginning to be part of the daily life of Jewish leaders, Fingerhut said. He said they were doing what was necessary to protect the community’s ability to practice their faith legitimately and freely.
“The basis of our religion is community,” Fingerhut said. “If people are afraid to take their children to a JCC or to summer camp or are afraid to go to synagogue to pray with their community, that would be the ultimate tragedy.”
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