On the upstairs floor of the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, two retired police officers sit facing computer monitors. The township’s former police chief, William “Bud” Monaghan, walks in and out from his office down the hall. Above the heads of the officers, empty sockets stand on the wall, waiting for the television screens that will be placed there in the coming weeks.
Soon enough, this small room with no windows will become the headquarters for Jewish security in 11 New Jersey counties and Delaware.
The ex-cops can already type any suspicious person’s name into an intelligence search engine, called Ontic, to find the information they need. Once the TVs are on the wall, they will also be able to look at any synagogue, Jewish community center or other organization in the network.
The program, titled JFed Security, is an agency within the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey. But it also extends beyond the South Jersey federation’s territory of Camden, Burlington and Gloucester counties. Federations covering counties as far north as Warren and as far south as Cape May are partners in this effort. The Jewish Federation of Delaware has also opted in. Monaghan is the agency’s executive director, with three full-time officers on his team.
JFed was made possible by the Jewish Federations of North America’s $130 million LiveSecure campaign, announced in 2021 to help secure Jewish communities during an era of rising antisemitism. The South Jersey federation received a grant worth $250,000. It also had to raise $500,000 to satisfy the program’s two-to-one fundraising requirement. Partner federations will have to match the cost of the program in years two and three, according to Monaghan.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is not a part of this effort. The Philadelphia Federation has contracted its security to the Secure Community Network, which describes itself as “the official safety and security organization for the Jewish community in North America.”
“It’s about having the connections within the community to leverage those relationships for information sharing,” said Monaghan of the New Jersey and Delaware partnership.
Antisemitic incidents have risen in the United States since 2015, according to the Anti-Defamation League. In 2022, the ADL counted 3,697 antisemitic incidents, a 36% increase from 2021. In South Jersey less than two years ago, swastika stickers and drawings appeared at a synagogue and a school, respectively.
A regional partnership will take a proactive approach to fighting antisemitism, according to Monaghan. It will be similar to how local police departments operate. They share resources, information and manpower. If an incident happens in Warren County, a shul leader in Cape May County can learn about it.
“The threat level doesn’t stop at territorial boundaries,” Monaghan said. “It’s critical that we have a consistent umbrella for communities.”
Rabbi Aaron Krauss, who leads Beth El Synagogue in Margate, said that, “We haven’t had any serious problems in this immediate area.” But he added that shul leaders and congregants are concerned about “what happens elsewhere.”
“We’d rather be safe than sorry,” he concluded.
Rabbi Nathan Weiner, who guides Congregation Beth Tikvah in Marlton, said that, last week, the synagogue received proselytization materials in the mail about converting Jews to Christianity. He took photos of the materials and sent them to the officers at the Katz JCC. They confirmed receipt, but have not reached out to Weiner since. The rabbi is fine with that.
“I trust that they’re doing what needs to be done,” he said. “That nothing is something.”
When JFed receives information, it can enter names, phone numbers and email addresses into Ontic. During a demonstration for the Jewish Exponent, Deputy Director John Moyer typed in the name of an upcoming speaker at a nearby synagogue. Social media posts, articles and other publicly available information populated on the screen. The speaker is not a suspicious character. Moyer was able to figure that out in seconds.
But if there ever is one attacking a synagogue, community leaders should call the police, according to Monaghan. JFed is not a law enforcement unit. It is another layer of security for the Jewish community. But Jewish leaders should still contact JFed about emergencies. There is an incident report form on jewishsouthjersey.org. There are also two phone lines: JFed Security at 856-673-2500 and the Duty Desk at 844-SCN-DESK.
The ex-cops in the small room with no windows are ready for your call. They are not Jewish. But they have still sworn “to protect and serve,” said Sean Redmond, another deputy director.
“Being brought onto this is helping people and that’s what I like to do,” Moyer said. ■