By Michael Balaban
The hostage crisis at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, was a horrific reminder to the American Jewish community that we continue to find ourselves the target of scapegoating, hate and extremism. Thankfully, all of the hostages at Congregation Beth Israel made it out alive and unharmed.
I am extremely grateful for the work of law enforcement and grateful for the efforts of organizations that focus on security measures, such as our partners, the Secure Community Network (SCN).
Despite the positive outcome, emotions of fear and sadness cross my mind, but it is mostly anger that I feel. Violent attacks against Jews have happened in broad daylight on the streets of major cities and at Jewish spaces in Pittsburgh, Monsey, Jersey City, Poway, and now Colleyville.
Despite cries of Never Again, antisemitism, hate and extremism continue to rise in our country. We are experiencing the worst wave of sustained and violent antisemitism our county has ever seen. At this moment, our nation is plagued by hate speech, vandalism, desecration, violence, murderous attacks and acts of terrorism. The Jewish community continues to be the target. What used to hide in the shadows is now on public display, often promoted unabashed.
It is a struggle to comprehend how we arrived here. We fought against this hatred and for a time, we thought we conquered it.
Let us be clear, these are attacks on all of us. Antisemitism is not just a “Jewish problem.” Rather it is a societal problem. An attack on Jews praying is an assault on our American right to religious freedom — the very essence of what makes up America.
For antisemitism to flourish, it requires one group to become the “other.” First, it starts with the Jews, but let us be very clear — it never ends with Jews. As a country founded on many beliefs, faiths, backgrounds, religions, and politics, America’s beauty was to be a safe haven for all.
Uniting on this issue, our security must be a top priority for all synagogues, agencies and institutions who are seeking to ensure that our community is a safe place. For decades, security has been a major priority for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, but Colleyville and the rise of antisemitism demands we increase the following collective actions:
Increase resources to secure the safety of our communities.
Instill pride of being Jewish in our children rather than fear.
Invest in education on how to combat antisemitism.
Build relationships with communities that are committed to combating hate and bigotry.
Invest in training to ensure that our community members and institutions are prepared.
Increase communication and coordination with law enforcement to stay apprised about any threats facing the Jewish community.
Engage in advocacy with our members of Congress and senators to double the funding level of the Nonprofit Security Grant Program in 2022.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia calls on all our communities to unite. The more we are united and joining to collaborate on security initiatives, the safer and secure our community will be. I look forward to working with all of you across our communities to bolster security measures and to make sure that we will remain safe, secure and prosperous for many years to come. l
Michael Balaban is the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.