I have been doing a lot of thinking this week after the hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas.
Let me start with this.
Our entire Jewish community takes security very seriously. Gene Moss, our Jewish Community Director of Security, updates our Jewish organizations on security concerns. We are in communication with local and other levels of law enforcement. We provide trainings. We have asked every Jewish organization to share their building floor plan so we have them accessible and available just in case. We are reviewing our protocols and alert tools. We are enhancing communications. We ask everyone to be vigilant and increase their own situational awareness. We are in this fight against antisemitism together.
I want to share I received notification from Secure Community Network (SCN) on Saturday morning regarding the hostage situation before I saw it on the news. SCN is the official safety and security organization of the Jewish community in North America, founded under the auspices of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. They were on the case immediately. In fact, in his description of his heroic escape with fellow congregants at Congregation Beth Israel, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker credited SCN for their survival based on the training he received.
It is clear that security training, education, and awareness played a huge role in saving the lives of those held hostage. We believe our efforts here will do the same for our synagogues and institutions if we faced a similar situation.
As I mentioned, our Jewish Federation partners with SCN (via a three-way funding partnership between the Jewish Federation, Oregon Jewish Community Foundation, and local Jewish organizations) to provide timely, credible threat, and incident information to both law enforcement and community partners, serves as the community’s formal liaison with federal law enforcement, and coordinates closely with state and local law enforcement partners. Our community security effort, led by Gene, who is officially an employee of SCN, has worked closely with dozens of Jewish organizations and synagogues across the State of Oregon and SW Washington providing risk-assessments, situational awareness, usher, and active shooter trainings, assistance in applying for non-profit security grants, and work to enhance overall security.
In fact, we have run over 100 training sessions with over 1,700 participants. Rabbi Cytron-Walker commented “Over the years, my congregation and I have participated in multiple security courses…We are alive today because of that education. I encourage all Jewish congregations, religious groups, schools and others to participate in active-shooter and security courses.” Important to emphasize that a one-time training or a one-time drill is not enough.
Change is and has been constant during the pandemic. Our minds have been focused on updating COVID protocols, taking on additional responsibilities that we never knew were needed, and training new staff members. We have seen turnover of professionals in our Jewish organizations. Hours of operations have been altered, as well as buildings open and closed. We utilize spaces differently to allow for social distancing. Saturday’s hostage incident in Colleyville provided an important “knock on the head” moment to remind us to think about security and assess our Jewish institutions’ vulnerabilities.
The time is now to reacquaint ourselves with the many security resources available. These trainings enhance the know-how of our organizations so they are ready for any situation. We encourage you to reach out to Gene Moss.
As we move forward, SCN is developing a new training designed for everyone in the Jewish community -- YOU. The training will provide attendees with an improved ability to recognize suspicious behavior and criminal activity, guidance on how to report it, and strategies to protect themselves and others from violence.
BeAware is an interactive training course that can be delivered either online or in-person. The course will improve the ability for people to recognize and react to dangerous situations in their everyday lives – from going to synagogue, dropping children off at school, going to the gas station or an ATM.
The training teaches best practice techniques on how to observe, report, and react to suspicious behavior, evaluate threats, and “commit to action” in dangerous situations. Participants will learn to distinguish between different situations, from individuals with mental health issues to civil unrest, and learn when something needs to be reported.
Designed by security professionals with experience in training thousands of members of the Jewish community, as well as law enforcement, the training is for everyone.
SCN is hosting a national preview of the training on:
January 27, 2022 -- 10:00 a.m.
Michael Masters, CEO of SCN, said, “As we saw in Texas, we cannot pick the time and date of the next incident that will impact our community, but we can choose to prepare. A critical component of preparing is training, and this training will provide crucial skills the Jewish community needs to stay safe. I hope every synagogue and Jewish facility in the United States will participate.”
It angers and saddens me to write about security for the Jewish community. We should not have to be concerned praying at a synagogue or entering a Jewish institution. We do not, however, know when and where situations like what occurred in Colleyville, Pittsburgh, and Poway will happen. That is why the Jewish Federation is committed to ensuring that our treasured Jewish institutions, and you, are informed and prepared to deal with these horrific situations.
Wishing the Jewish community and you a peaceful Shabbat.