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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.


‘It’s valuable to hear both sides’

Ridgewood man discusses Israeli, Palestinian narratives

Jonathan Emont — a 2008 graduate of Ridgewood High School who celebrated his bar mitzvah at the town’s Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center — always has felt a deep attachment to the state of Israel.

Still, the 23-year-old said, he never expected that country to be at the center of his professional life.

Things changed, however, when the recent Swarthmore College graduate went to Israel on a tour the America-Israel Friendship League offered to young journalists.

“I did journalism in college,” he said, explaining that although he majored in history, he also was the editor of Swarthmore’s Daily Gazette.


Walling off, reaching out

Teaneck shul offers discussion of Women of the Wall

It is not an understatement to say that the saga of Women of the Wall is a metaphor for much of the struggle between tradition and change in Israel.

Founded 25 years ago by a group of Israeli and non-Israeli women whose religious affiliations ran from Orthodox to Reform, it has been a flashpoint for the fight for pluralism in Israel, as one side would define it, or the obligation to hold onto God-given mandates on the other.

As its members and supporters fought for the right to hold services in the women’s section, raising their voices in prayer, and later to wear tallitot and read from sifrei Torah, and as their opponents grew increasingly violent in response, it came to define questions of synagogue versus state and showcase both the strengths and the flaws of Israel’s extraordinary parliamentary system. It also highlighted rifts between American and Israeli Jews.


Yet more Pew

Local rabbis talk more about implications of look at American Jews

The Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews, released last October, really is the gift that keeps on giving.

As much as the Jewish community deplores the study’s findings, it seems to exert a magnetic pull over us, as if it were the moon and we the obedient tides. We can’t seem to stop talking about it. (Of course, part of that appeal is the license it gives us to talk, once again, about ourselves. We fascinate ourselves endlessly.)

That is why we found ourselves at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly last Wednesday night, with the next in the seemingly endless series of snow-and-ice storms just a few hours away, discussing the Pew study yet again.



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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