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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.


Praying while female at the Kotel

Women of the Wall representative to speak locally

What’s going on with the Women of the Wall now?

What’s happening with gender equality and pluralism in Israel, now that the Israeli election is over?

Women of the Wall, made up of women from across the Jewish spectrum, has fought for the right to pray at the Kotel — Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the symbolic center of Jewish life, the magnet that draws observant and non-observant Jews, non-Jews, poets, and often even skeptics, close to it, as if they were pure iron filings.

The group, which was formed in the late 1980s, has been bolstered by legal wins. Its most important recent victory was the April 2013 decision by Judge Moshe Sobel of the Jerusalem District Court, who ruled that the city police were wrong when they arrested five women for the crime of wearing tallitot at the women’s section of the Kotel.


‘Oy vey, my child is gay’

Orthodox parents seek shared connection in upcoming retreat

Eshel, a group that works to bridge the divide that often separates lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews from their Orthodox communities, is holding its third annual retreat for Orthodox parents of those LGBT Jews next month.

Although most of its work is done with Orthodox LGBT Jews — who may or may not be the children of the parents at the retreat — the retreat offers parents community, immediate understanding, the freedom to speak that comes with that understanding, the chance to learn, and the opportunity to model healthy acceptance.

“There are particular issues to being Orthodox and having a gay child, although it varies a lot from community to community,” Naomi Oppenheim of Teaneck said. “You worry about what the community is thinking about you. Someone — I don’t remember who — said, ‘When my kid came out, I went into the closet.’”


Twenty years later

Stephen Flatow remembers his murdered daughter Alisa

When you ask attorney Stephen Flatow of West Orange how many children he has, his answer is immediate.

“I have five children,” he says.

Not surprising. What father doesn’t know how many children he has?

And how are they doing?

Four of them are flourishing; they are all married and all parents. Mr. Flatow and his wife, Rosalyn, have 13 grandchildren, and another one’s on the way. (And three of the Flatows’ children live in Bergen County.)

But the fifth, his oldest, Alisa, was murdered by terrorists when she was 20; her 20th yahrzeit was last week. She has been dead as long as she was alive.

“Just because she isn’t there now, that doesn’t mean I’m not her father,” he said. “I just don’t have any recent pictures of her to show.”



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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