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Safe Shuls

It’s not too late to watch a security webinar—or read our summary

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Synagogues need to take responsibility for their security, said retired New York Police Department detective Mordecai Dzikansky, who served as the NYPD’s liaison with the Israeli police in the aftermath of 9/11.

“If you are relying solely on police you’re leaving yourself vulnerable,” Dzikansky said in an interview.

Dzikansky spoke with the Jewish Standard after taking part in a webinar organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York which aimed to inform synagogue leaders across the country about security procedures and safety approaching the High Holy Days.

The webinar is available for viewing at

Other presenters included Douglas Smith, who is the assistant secretary for the private sector of the Department of Homeland Security, and David Pollock, associate executive director of the New York JCRC.

“The fact that more people than usual go to synagogues at the High Holy Days makes synagogues especially attractive targets to terrorists at that time,” said Pollack.

Over 60 participants from over 55 congregations tuned in to the webinar, according to Judah Isaacs, director of community engagement for the Orthodox Union, which publicized the webinar.

“As we approach High Holy Days we want to be sure everyone is vigilant,” Isaacs said. “The OU has an initiative we call ‘Safe Homes, Safe Schools, Safe Shuls.’ Safety is the number one concern for us. We take care of our own selves and institutions.”

Dzikansky recommended that synagogues hire off-duty police to stand out front in uniform and assist synagogue leaders in searching unfamiliar people, he said.

“[Ideally] you have private security and a member of the congregation there to streamline situations so you don’t waste time on people you know,” he said. “You can be friendly, you can do it with a smile, but do not let anyone [unfamiliar] into the building without questioning and searching them.”

In the webinar, Pollock stated, “Under U.S. law, you can regulate who can come in and out of your synagogue. If someone seems suspicious, you can refuse them entry.”

In the absence of professional security, Dzikansky recommends synagogues station members of the congregation out front on their own. It is legal and important for synagogue members to deny entry to anyone suspicious who will not submit to having his or her belongings searched, Dzikansky said.

Attention also should be paid to unusual objects, or unknown cars, in the vicinity, and congregants should immediately notify police about anything suspicious. Synagogue leaders and other members should be briefed on the location of charged cell phones “in even the most Orthodox shul” and immediately call police in case of emergency or anything suspicious.

He added that most terrorists do surveillance and pick a target based on perceived vulnerability.

“It is very critical that you look like a hard target when you have individuals approaching your facility and doing surveillance,” he said.

In the webinar, one participant asked whether synagogues should allow worshipers who are also trained security personnel or law enforcement officers to bring their weapons to shul. Dzikansky said he would not categorically oppose allowing members who are licensed to carry concealed weapons to bring their weapons to synagogue. He cautioned, however, that they should be discreet and other members should not be aware they are armed.

Other topics raised in the webinar included the value of establishing a plan for synagogue evacuation in case of an emergency and making congregants aware of all exits to facilitate emergency evacuation.


More on: Safe Shuls


State offers security seminar for local institutions

A pre-Rosh Hashanah “security briefing and security awareness program” sponsored by the office of Gov. Chris Christie and the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security & Preparedness brought more than 70 representatives of area synagogues and Jewish organizations to the Passaic County Police Academy in Wayne last week.

The presentations stressed the importance of working with local law enforcement.

Detective Gil Breit, assistant counterterrorism coordinator for the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, gave the keynote presentation. He focused on the need for Jewish institutions to work closely with public safety officials.


Advice from the Secure Community Network

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Stay tuned for the return of comments

Mordechai posted 25 Sep 2011 at 07:45 PM

“In the webinar, one participant asked whether synagogues should allow worshipers who are also trained security personnel or law enforcement officers to bring their weapons to shul.”  Why only trained security personnel or law enforcement officers?  What about licensed and trained private citizens.  Forty states in this country have shall issue concealed carry laws which mandate the issuance of a concealed carry permit to anyone who passes a background check.  Most states also have training requirements.  Such a person is as capable as defending themselves and their community as is an off-duty police officer or hired armed security guard.  This is vastly preferrable to the advice given by the ADL in their synagogue security guide.  What’s their advice if an armed intruder enters a synagogue?  Run and hide (and keep praying, I guess).  Unfortunately, in states like NJ and NY, it is impossible—for now—for ordinary, law abiding, trained citizens to obtain a concealed carry permit.  That needs to and eventually will change.


Beyond sanctions and kerfuffles

A look at the Iran deal Netanyahu wants to avoid

WASHINGTON — When Benjamin Netanyahu faces the Congress next month, two things are unlikely to come up in his speech: a consideration of diplomatic protocol and an analysis of the efficacy of sanctions.

Media attention before the speech has focused on the diplomatic crisis set off by the invitation to the Israeli prime minister from U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who kept President Barack Obama in the dark, and the ensuing political tussle between backers and opponents of new sanctions on Iran.

But Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to Washington who coordinated the invitation with Boehner, has made it clear that Netanyahu’s focus on March 3 will be on the bigger picture: what Netanyahu thinks will be a bad nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 nations, the sobriquet for the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany, and Britain.


Not just blah-blah-blah and pizza

Mahwah shul develops programming for pre- and post-b’nai mitzvah kids

So now there’s a how-to-write-a-blessing class. “The parents are really appreciative,” Rabbi Mosbacher said.

“I used to meet with b’nai mitzvah kids and their families twice,” he added. “Now we meet seven times in the course of a year. The last one is right before the bar mitzvah. Now I’m thinking the last one should be after the bar mitzvah. It’s a lot of time on my part, but it’s time well spent in developing a relationship with the kids and with the families.”

While these efforts are designed to connect children and their families to the congregation before the bar or bat mitzvah, the synagogue also has changed its post-b’nai mitzvah connections to the children.


French Jews face uncertain future

A look at some stories from a local leader

In the wake of the terror attacks at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office and the Hyper Cacher grocery store — a kosher market — I participated in a Jewish Agency mission to Paris.

Our delegation of Americans and Israelis arrived last week to show solidarity with the French Jewish community. We also sought to better understand the threat of heightened anti-Semitism in France (and, indirectly, elsewhere in Europe). We met with more than 40 French Jewish community leaders and activists, all of them open to sharing their concerns.

On January 7, Islamist terrorists murdered a dozen Charlie Hebdo staffers as retribution for the magazine’s cartoon depictions of the prophet Mohammed. Two days later, another terrorist held a bunch of Jewish grocery shoppers hostage, killing four, which French President Francois Hollande acknowledged as an “appalling anti-Semitic act.”



Israel launching drive to void Goldstone Report

WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would launch an international campaign to cancel the Goldstone Report after its author, ex-South African Judge Richard Goldstone, wrote in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post that Israel did not intentionally target civilians as a policy during the Gaza War, withdrawing a critical allegation in the report.

Netanyahu said he had asked his security adviser, Ya’akov Amidror, to establish a committee focused on “minimizing the damage caused” by the report.


Facebook and Zuckerberg does an about-face and deletes Palestinian page calling for a Third Intifada

Following widespread criticism, a Facebook page calling for a third Palestinian intifada against Israel was removed on March 29. On the Facebook page, Palestinians were urged to launch street protests following Friday May 15 and begin an uprising as modelled by similar uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan. Killing Jews en masse was emphasized.

According to the Facebook page, “Judgment Day will be brought upon us only once the Muslims have killed all of the Jews.” The page had more than 340,000 fans. However, even while the page was removed, a new page now exists in its place with the same name,  “Third Palestinian Intifada.”


Did heated rhetoric play role in shooting of Giffords?

WASHINGTON – The 8th District in southern Arizona represented by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords comprises liberal Tucson and its rural hinterlands, which means moderation is a must. But it also means that spirits and tensions run high.

Giffords’ office in Tucson was ransacked in March following her vote for health care reform — a vote the Democrat told reporters that she would cast even if it meant her career. She refused to be cowed, but she also took aim at the hyped rhetoric. She cast the back-and-forth as part of the democratic process.

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