In light of recent acts of terrorism abroad, Jewish federations across the nation are taking a closer look at their own security.
If you are an avid SEPTA rider, you’ve probably heard the monotonous daily digitized voice that has rung every day since the Brussels attack in March: “If you see something, say something.”
But in light of those recent acts of terrorism abroad, Jewish federations across the nation are joining their local transit companies and taking a closer look at their own security.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia held a security briefing Monday to discuss these threats and how the Jewish Federation is prepared for any potential incidents.
With threats from the Islamic State on the rise — as well as deaths in Paris, Brussels, and San Bernardino — anti-Semitic incidents are following similar patterns.
About 60 people attended the meeting, which featured speakers from federal law enforcement, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Secure Community Network (SCN).
SCN provides security for Jewish Federations of North America by reaching out to synagogues, Jewish schools, Hillels and all the federations themselves to provide preparedness training and resources.
Paul Goldenberg, national director of SCN, said the organization was created 10 years ago after the FBI approached rabbis in the New York area and advised them that there was a threat against their synagogues.
The rabbis didn’t know what to do with that information, and there was no way to communicate it with the rest of the Jewish community in New York or elsewhere. That led the community to believe it should have a full-time entity.
Working at the time as the chief of the hate crimes division for the New Jersey Attorney General’s office, Goldenberg was responsible for investigating major crime, which included Jewish cemetery desecrations.
“I soon discovered, within minutes, when I learned the name of the cemetery, that my own father was buried in that cemetery,” he said of one investigation. “So these types of events are very personal for me.”
The American Jewish community has come a long way since dealing with cemetery vandalism, but Goldenberg said with the advancement of the Internet, information, resources and weaponry has become more easily accessible, as evident with the Islamic State’s actions in Europe.
“I think for the first time since the Holocaust, we are seeing real threats” in Europe for the Jewish people, he admitted.
“The Jewish communities have dealt with institutionalized anti-Semitism for centuries, for decades,” he continued. “They’ve dealt with these issues and are extremely resilient, but we’re dealing with a new phenomenon now. We’re dealing with a well-trained, well-inspired, individual and/or groups of people who, in the name of jihad or in the name of white supremacy, want to attack and kill not only members of the American Jewish community, but Jewish communities across the diaspora.”
However, Jewish federations have been proactive about these potential threats, and Goldenberg stressed that people should not be fearful.
“We want to not create fear in the hearts and the souls of the Jewish people,” he said. “It’s really about empowerment and providing the resources and the capabilities so they can better protect themselves.”
American Jewry is resilient, he added, and in the Philadelphia community, SCN is working closely with the Jewish Federation to create its own security committee of volunteers who will plan out prepared scenarios.
“The outcome would be a better prepared, a better trained and a resilient Jewish community here in Philadelphia,” he said.
Naomi Adler, CEO of the Jewish Federation, said this was the second briefing about the new committee, the first being between Jewish agencies and organizations.
“This highlighted the need for a group of a standing council of people interested in security matters,” she said. “I’m gratified that there are so many people in our community that are working with us to keep our eye on this issue.”
No matter what, Goldenberg encouraged the Jewish community to not let terrorism or anti-Semitism prevent them from living their lives.
“When and if there is an attack against our community, we have to be prepared to go to synagogue the next day; to be back in our schools the next day; to be back in our federations the next day,” he said. “If we live in fear and we allow those that want to harm or kill us to terrorize us from continuing our way of life, they have won.”
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