(CNN)In October it was the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Last week it was the Chabad of Poway in California. We must face the reality of this ongoing threat.
It may be easy to assume the United States is the safest place in the world to be Jewish, but the time has come to ask how safe we are, especially in the places where Jews gather to worship and celebrate. The recent attacks on the Jewish community represent a frightening new reality for Jews in the United States — and an increasing concern for members of every faith. As the attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka and Muslims in New Zealand show, houses of worship for many faiths are threatened.
Jewish communities throughout the United States cannot wait any longer: They must make security a priority. And, indeed, many synagogues have done so, turning to armed, off-duty law enforcement officials to discreetly provide security at services and other gatherings.
Well thought out security plans need to be implemented, trained and exercised everywhere. Anything less fails to recognize the reality of the world we live in.
This is why the Secure Community Network, or SCN, was founded in 2004 by The Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. We know security issues are difficult for many institutions to address.
Through SCN’s joint efforts with the Jewish Federation system, we have hired, helped hire or worked with more than 45 full-time security directors. Through our collective efforts, SCN serves 147 Jewish Federations, 50 partner organizations, and over 300 independent communities.
Effective security comes in different shapes and sizes. It need not always take the form of armed security. However, in the right, well-trained, professional hands, being armed can literally be the difference between life and death.
In Pittsburgh, the security director for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh trained the rabbi and many of the members in Tree of Life just months before the October 2018 attack that killed 11. Normally the rabbi would not have carried his cell phone to a Saturday Shabbat service. The security director instructed him to do so in case of an emergency. As the attack unfolded, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers was the first person to call the police, allowing them to arrive in force.
Every location where Jews gather today needs this type of detailed training. It needs to be realistic and it needs to be drilled, regularly. The same applies for mosques and churches.
The security we provide consists of three main actions: Assess, improve and deploy, or AID.
Assess: Jewish leaders need to assess how safe or vulnerable their facilities are. Many locations, especially synagogues, are designed to be welcoming and this provides challenges: How do we balance being welcoming with being safe and secure? Are there numerous doors that allow guests inside? Is parking right next to the building? Are windows shatterproof? Who oversees security: lay leaders or professionals? Is there a good security plan in place?
Improve: Where weaknesses exist, improvements must be made. It’s not hard to lock all doors except for one main entry, or to hold live shooter drills that teach leaders and congregants what to do in case of an attack. Security is a nitty, gritty business. It constantly needs to be worked on, updated, drilled and improved.
Deploy: Our team of military, security and law enforcement experts was created to be deployed into communities to provide the training, planning and thinking necessary to help communities prevent attacks.
As experts, we work closely with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and joint terrorism task forces as well as state and local law enforcement to coordinate and share information. The government is keenly aware of the unique threat faced by the Jewish community. They want our input and they share information. We also coordinate with government officials closely during threats and incidents, as we did in Pittsburgh and Poway.
In just six months, two armed gunmen stormed into two temples, killing 12, injuring many. This is a call to action. It is also the reality of being Jewish in America today. Going to synagogue to pray or to celebrate should not be a game of Russian roulette. One attack is too many. Two are far too many.
Our job is to make sure there isn’t another attack. If the call to action is heard and practiced at Jewish facilities everywhere, the likelihood of a third attack can be greatly diminished, and we — as a Jewish community and as a country — can be better prepared.