Jews counter antisemitic threats with security training

U.S.

FILE – Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, facing camera, hugs a man after a healing service Monday night, Jan. 17, 2022, at White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake, Texas. Cytron-Walker was one of four people held hostage by a gunman at his Colleyville, Texas, synagogue on Saturday. (Yffy Yossifor/Star-Telegram via AP, File)

(NewsNation Now) — Seventy-seven years after the liberation of Auschwitz, rising antisemitism has security specialists urging Jewish-Americans to think steps ahead of anti-Jewish threats.

Groups such as the nonprofit Community Security Service help build volunteer-based physical security teams and safety programs for the Jewish community. Through partnerships with law enforcement, private security and volunteers, communities learn to identify threats and better guard one another against antisemitic attacks. Although some security businesses provide active shooter training for places of worship, CSS does not.

The volunteer security model is commonplace in Jewish communities around the world, but it’s still gaining traction in the U.S., according to Richard Priem, the COO and deputy national director or CSS.

“That is much more mainstream in European and Latin American Jewish communities — communities that have been dealing with this for a very, very long time — and I think some of that we need to start incorporating in our mindset in the United States, as well,” Priem said.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker credited security training for allowing him and three other hostages to make it through a 10-hour standoff Jan. 15 at Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas.

Although CSS wasn’t responsible for that particular training, they’ve seen a significant uptick in demand for their services since the Texas hostage situation, Priem said.

“I can’t put a number on it but (it’s) significant … much more than double the amount — both from institutions, but also individuals stepping up to volunteer,” Priem said.

When it comes to mitigating attacks on houses of worship, the FBI recommends taking a multi-layered approach that identifies clear roles and responsibilities for developing and implementing security measures. They also suggest establishing best practices for cybersecurity to safeguard important information and prevent a potential cyberattack.  

Lockdowns prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic seem to have exacerbated hatred online, too. German parliament speaker Baerbel Bas said the pandemic has acted “like an accelerant” to already burgeoning antisemitism.

In 2020, the U.S. saw a 40% increase in reported incidents at places including synagogues, Jewish community centers and Jewish schools, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

That same year, nearly 60% of all religiously motivated attacks targeted Jews and Jewish institutions, according to FBI hate crime statistics.

Rabbis and congregants now face not only the inherent fears of gathering during a pandemic but also dangers of antisemitic attacks, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CEO of the rabbinic human rights organization T’ruah, said in an official statement after the Colleyville hostages were released.

“Far too many rabbis and cantors lead services each week wondering if their community will be next,” Jacobs wrote.  

In a December 2021 open letter to the American Jewish community, CSS CEO and National Director Evan Bernstein asked American Jews to take the risk of antisemitic threats more seriously. He called on American Jews to be the eyes and ears on the ground and to use their knowledge of their community as a sixth sense that law enforcement and private security “could never possess.”

“You, your friends, your neighbors can all play a huge part in the culture shift on security that we need.”

That guidance came just weeks before the Colleyville standoff. But despite recent attacks, Priem said “the sky isn’t falling.”

“(People) can take action now by getting involved, by getting trained, whether it’s with CSS, or whether it’s through local law enforcement or another organization that does any kind of training that is helpful for our collective security,” Priem said. “Get involved and be part of the solution and don’t be passive and wait until the next time a crisis hits.”

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