Jewish Communal Leaders Talk Security

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Synagogue, camp, school and other organizational leaders gathered for a security symposium run by the Security Community Network.

Kansas City. Paris. Mumbai. Seattle. Copenhagen.

Separated by thousands of miles, these international cities all share at least one thing in common. They have all been the sites over the last decade of deadly terrorist attacks targeting their Jewish communities.


The most recent attack in Copenhagen led to the death of Dan Uzan, a 37-year old volunteer security guard, who was with two police officers at the Great Synagogue when a gunman opened fire with an automatic weapon, killing Uzan and wounding the officers.

So it comes with little surprise that the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia hosted the Security Community Network (SCN), the national homeland security initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, for a timely security symposium at the Jewish Community Services Building in Center City on Feb. 17.

At the meeting, communal leaders of local Jewish schools, camps, synagogues and agencies, received briefings from representatives of the Philadelphia Police Department, Homeland Security and SCN. 

“No matter how many times you’ve been trained” on security measures, “you need it again,” Federation CEO Naomi Adler said by way of introducing the conference.

Doron Horowitz, a member of the SCN advisory board and owner of Insight Security Consulting, ran the attendees through various scenarios that could arise in the Jewish community and tested their responses.

The job of communal leaders during and after a crisis is “not just to survive, but to lead,” Horowitz said. “Leadership equates to resiliency and the community needs resiliency.”

While Horowitz conceded that predicting and preventing what is termed a “lone wolf attack” — an attack by individuals not on the radar of security forces — is nearly impossible, he noted that there are preventative measures that organizations can take to raise their situational readiness in the case of such an event. Though it might not be able to completely stop the attack or occurrence, preparedness can minimalize its effect.

“The greatest threat we face is uncertainty,” added Horowitz, who gave a separate briefing later in the day for staff of the Federation and other agencies housed in the Arch Street building.

Those in attendance of the conference said they found it useful and would bring back what they learned to their communities.

Irving Schnall, representing Congregation Beth Hamedrosh, an Orthodox synagogue in Wynnewood, said the synagogue recently installed security cameras in the wake of a vandalism incident. Though the attack only resulted in a few broken windows, which Schnall conceded was likely perpetrated by youths, the symposium offered him an opportunity to learn how to handle attacks in the future.

Also in attendance was Deborah Hersh, on behalf of Congregations of Shaare Shamayim in the Northeast.

“We have over 600 families, we have a preschool and a religious school — we’re open 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Hersh. We’ll do everything we can “to make sure our families are safe.”

Ultimately, the purpose of the meeting was for organizations to identify gaps in their current security measures and to identify areas where they can improve, according to Mark Genatempo, SCN’s program administrator overseeing the event.

“People do what they practice — it’s the essential foundation of training,” said Genatempo. “Prevention, mitigation and response.”

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