Before the High Holidays this year, rabbis said they were going to great lengths to secure their synagogues. There would be security guards, check-ins, even police officers.
All of this was necessary “since Pittsburgh,” they kept reiterating. It referred to the deadliest antisemitic act in United States history: the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in 2018 that killed 11 Jews.
Throughout the Philadelphia area, synagogue leaders called in township officers to help them get through the holidays without incident. Luckily, there were no incidents.
But maybe that wasn’t just luck.
We looked at how the Cherry Hill Police Department helped secure Jewish spaces on Yom Kippur. This South Jersey township with more than 74,000 residents is also home to six synagogues and the Katz JCC.
11 a.m.: Shift Change
With services starting across town, a new group of Cherry Hill police officers is beginning its shift. In a windowless room inside the municipal building on Mercer Street, Patrol Sergeant Sheldon Bryant opens the meeting.
There is one big event in Cherry Hill on this otherwise normal Monday: Yom Kippur.
“Directed patrols are requested at all Jewish temples, schools and synagogues during the High Holy Days,” reads a directive. “High visibility presence requested on the properties at all times.”
A list of synagogues follows: Sons of Israel, Young Israel, Temple Beth Sholom, Kol Ami, Chabad Lubavitch and Torah Links. The JCC is also included because Jews will be parking there and shuttling across the street to Kol Ami.
Bryant closes the meeting, and the officers depart. The sergeant and a detective, Richard Nelms, are going to drive around to shuls to start the day. Bryant estimates that 20 additional officers are assigned to the synagogues.
“We have a very large gathering on these days,” the sergeant said. “Anytime with stuff like that, you have extra precautions as far as traffic and safety goes.”
11:30 a.m.: Congregation Kol Ami
The parking lot at the Katz JCC is half full. The bus that is taking people over to Kol Ami is sitting idle. A quick drive across Springdale Road into the lot at the synagogue shows that services have started.
No spots are available at this Reform shul with more than 800 member families. The officers can drive right in. But as soon as they get close to the building, another cop will see them. He’s parked out front. The officer steps out to talk to his colleagues as they get close.
“All good here,” he said.
A few minutes later, a synagogue leader learns that the police and a member of the media are outside. She comes out and explains how tight the security is. There are guards in the lobby, too.
“No one is getting in here,” she said.
As Bryant drives out of the lot, Nelms points out an undercover car. It’s parked in a regular spot. There’s an officer inside.
11:45 a.m.: Temple Beth Sholom
A few turns away on Kresson Road, Bryant needs to roll down his window as he drives into the lot. Another officer is manning the entrance at Temple Beth Sholom, a Conservative shul.
“Parking pass, please,” he jokes to his fellow officer.
Every other car in this full lot has one. Since no spots are available, cars are parked along the sidewalks, too.
Officers are directing traffic between the main entrance to the building and a tent service outside. Jewish men in yarmulkes and women in their Yom Kippur best walk toward the tent. They stroll right by the officers.
Bryant drives toward the exit on the other end of the lot. As he does, Nelms points out another officer in a regular car.
The sergeant pulls up to the exit. A cop is manning that area, too, and lets him through.
Noon: Sons of Israel
Sons of Israel, an Orthodox community on Cooper Landing Road. Bryant confirms that its leaders, like those at Kol Ami and Beth Sholom, have hired officers to help for the day.
But here, the gate to the parking lot is closed. The lot is also full, but no officers are seen patrolling it.
All these measures — police cars outside entrances, parking passes and closed gates — are deterrents, according to Nelms. The goal is not to stop an incident. It’s to prevent one.
When a potential perpetrator sees a closed gate or black police vehicle, he’ll be more likely to turn around.
“You can never be too careful these days,” Nelms said.