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Jewish institutions reassessing security

Jewish institutions throughout the United States are reassessing their security following last Friday’s mail bombing attempt involving two Jewish institutions in Chicago.

On Tuesday, some 200 representatives of Jewish community institutions took part in a conference call with FBI experts on security measures.

“The situation with bombs this weekend certainly reminded us that all our institutions can be vulnerable to threats of this type,” said Bonnie Michelman, the community security chairwoman of the Anti-Defamation League, which organized the call.

Michelman, the security director at Massachusetts General Hospital, went on to outline specific signs that people should look for to identify suspicious packages.

The FBI announced Tuesday that no synagogues exist at the addresses on the two bomb packages but urged the need for continued community vigilance.

“Terrorists will continue and diversify their attacks,” a representative from the FBI’s Washington field office said during the conference call.

Senior leadership from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was set to begin holding teleconferences on the same topic with senior Jewish organizational leaders across the country beginning Wednesday afternoon.

Security experts are still trying to determine the actual targets of the two explosive-packed printer cartridges intercepted last Friday. It was unclear whether they were meant for the planes carrying the packages or the Jewish institutions to which the packages were addressed. U.S. authorities have refused to confirm the identities of the institutions targeted.

One of the packages was intercepted in Dubai and another in London. Al-Qaida is believed to be behind the two bombs.

After the bombs were discovered, a Homeland Security team arrived Sunday in Chicago, according to Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Secure Community Network, the national agency for Jewish communal security. SCN operates under the auspices of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The Homeland Security representatives are contacting Chicago Jewish institutions for security training in conjunction with the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. SCN will notify other communities in advance of the Homeland Security calls, which will extend through the week.

“They’re providing training and resources to ensure the community feels safe and has the tools it needs,” Goldenberg said.

Of particular concern in this case, Goldenberg noted, is that the package bombs were addressed to American Jewish institutions, indicating that terrorists are treating them as proxies for Israel and thus legitimate targets.

“We don’t know when the bombs were intended to go off, but the fact remains they were going after American Jews, not Israeli consulates,” he said. “They targeted American synagogues. That was the message.”

Last Friday, SCN sent out two e-mail notifications to its national network outlining how to handle suspicious packages and alerting people to key addresses and other signs of a potential terrorist mail threat. The Orthodox Union, the Union of Conservative Judaism, and Union for Reform Judaism, members of the SCN network, also sent out security alerts to their member congregations.

The SCN notification advised Jewish organizations to watch for large packages, particularly coming from abroad.

“Organizations that believe they have received a suspicious package should not open it, [should] evacuate the area, and call 911 immediately,” it said.

Steve Sheinberg, who oversees the ADL’s Jewish community security program, said now that the first wave of emergency information has gone out, it’s time to regroup and engage in a careful, ongoing reassessment of each institution’s security measures.

“Our security messages are very measured,” he said. “Our goal is to inform, not panic. There is no need for panic. This is an occasion to look at security measures in place, make adjustments as necessary, and move forward.”

In Chicago, Jews are calm but wary following the bomb threat.

“The schools are all being very vigilant, without getting everyone nervous,” said Rolly Cohen, education director of the Board of Jewish Education of Metropolitan Chicago. “They’re stepping things up a bit, making sure doors are locked, checking to see who’s there before opening them, putting security measures back in places they might have become more lax about.”

“The need to take security precautions is not new,” said JUF Executive Vice President Michael Kotzin, who praised national and local security agencies for their professionalism and alacrity in responding to this incident. “This was a very traumatic example of that. There’s generally been a sense of calm, not fear and panic but a kind of resignation that we need to be alert — as Americans, and as Jews in particular.”

The Chicago federation and the ADL scheduled a security conference for Thursday in Chicago to bring together heads of local Jewish institutions with representatives of Homeland Security, the U.S. Postal Service, and local law enforcement.

Comparing this week’s efforts to those following the shooting of six people at the Seattle Jewish federation three years ago, Goldenberg distinguished between the actions of “a lone wolf” like the Seattle shooter and the current situation.

“Now we are dealing with the potential of one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world targeting Jewish institutions,” he said.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation, an Orthodox synagogue in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, said operations at his synagogue “continued as usual” last Shabbat, although security was enhanced and worshippers were instructed to be extra vigilant.

“We had a bar mitzvah and no one was afraid to come to shul. I think it even drummed up business — one man told me his wife said, ‘You have to go to shul,’” Lopatin said.

“You think Chicago is under the radar screen, then you realize no one is immune if you are a part of a community,” the rabbi added.

For detailed information on recommended security precautions, visit http://www.scnus.org or http://www.adl.org/security.

JTA

The Chicago Jewish News contributed to this report.

 
 

Bin Laden’s killing raises immediate questions of security

For years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many Americans waited in fear for the next strike by al-Qaida on U.S. soil. But the ensuing decade has seen no more major terrorist attacks in the United States.

Now, with the news that Osama bin Laden has been killed in Pakistan by U.S. forces, the question many American Jews are considering is whether the liquidation of al-Qaida’s leader makes a follow-up attack more or less likely, and whether Jews could be a target.

“More likely,” said Paul Goldenberg, director of the Secure Community Network, the American Jewish community’s security organ known by the acronym SCAN.

“We know of no imminent threat as of today as a direct result of the death of bin Laden,” Goldenberg told JTA on Monday morning, when much of the world woke up to the news of bin Laden’s death. “However, the community should remain extremely vigilant because there are lone wolves, and other terrorist groups have used incidents like this to launch revenge attacks.”

In October, a pair of mail bombs from Yemen were sent to Chicago synagogues but were intercepted by law enforcement officials before they reached their targets. A year ago, on May 1, 2010, a Pakistani-born man tried and failed to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square. Neither event was linked to a specific American action, but both resulted in raised states of alert at many Jewish institutions. Security experts have credited better U.S. intelligence and law enforcement in preventing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil after 9/11.

In Israel’s experience, assassinations of senior terrorist figures have been followed up months or even years later by revenge attacks. Hamas and Hezbollah often have ascribed their terrorist attacks on Israel to Israeli military actions.

But some security experts are warning against interpreting terrorist attacks as acts of revenge, saying it fuels the mistaken notion that somehow the actions of the West are to blame for terrorism.

“When you focus on this sort of causality, we accept the terrorists’ framing,” Bruce Hoffman, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies, told The Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg a year ago.

“They see themselves as reluctant fighters, always retaliating, never initiating,” Hoffman said. “The media can make it look as if the terror groups are simply defending themselves from some provocation. The question is one of original provocation.”

Of more concern now, say security experts, is the possibility that a lone wolf will be motivated by bin Laden’s killing to attack a U.S. target. While intelligence and law enforcement officials are adept at tracking terrorist activity and planning — just last week, German officials arrested three suspected al-Qaida members for planning an imminent terrorist attack — it’s much harder to stop a lone person acting spontaneously or with little coordination.

“The concern is that a lone wolf that sits in front of his or her television screen sees this, becomes furious at what occurred, and with no real planning, on their own or in a small group, will make an effort to go out and execute an attack,” Goldenberg said. “Those in law enforcement have a very tough time keeping track of the lone wolf.”

That’s the scenario that took place in March 1994, when a Lebanese cab driver in New York, incensed at the massacre of 29 Arabs in Hebron by Baruch Goldstein, opened fire on a van full of chasidic youths on the Brooklyn Bridge, killing 16-year-old Ari Halberstam.

When it comes to al-Qaida, the question is whether removing the movement’s leader will deal al-Qaida a critical blow or whether the movement is diffuse enough to thrive even without bin Laden’s leadership.

“What is this great victory? What is the great thing that they achieved?” a Sunni Muslim preacher in Lebanon, Bilal al-Baroudi, was quoted in The New York Times as saying. “Bin Laden is not the end, and the door remains shut between us and the United States. We dislike the reactions and the celebrations in the United States.”

The response to bin Laden’s death elsewhere in the Muslim world has been mixed. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh condemned the killing, calling bin Laden a Muslim and Arab warrior and saying that “we regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood.”

A Palestinian Authority spokesman, however, said bin Laden’s demise was “good for the cause of peace.”

Israel and Jewish groups concurred, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailing it as a triumph in the fight against terrorists.

“The State of Israel joins the American people on this historic day in celebrating the elimination of Osama bin Laden,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “This is a resounding victory for justice, freedom, and the common values of all democracies that are resolutely fighting shoulder to shoulder against terrorism.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Jewish group gets security training

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From left are Paul Goldenberg, national director, National Secure Community Network; Charles McKenna, director of the N.J. Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness; Jacob Toporek, executive director of the N.J. State Association of Jewish Federations; Ruth Cole, its president; Mark Levenson, its president-elect; and Leonard Cole, director of the program on terror medicine and security of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. NJSAJF

The Secure Community Network, the non-profit homeland security initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, hosted an executive security conference June 14 for senior Jewish leaders in this state.

Paul Goldenberg, national director of SCN, who opened the conference at the East Brunswick Jewish Center, said that the “event highlights the strong partnership between the governor’s office, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, and the leadership of our Jewish communities in New Jersey.” He added, “The importance of public-private partnerships, particularly as it relates to homeland security efforts cannot be overstated.”

Co-sponsors were the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, the Anti-Defamation League, the Orthodox Union, and Agudath Israel.

Nearly 100 community delegates, law enforcement officers, and security experts attended.

The NJSAJF “is a prime sponsor and coordinating agent for this statewide security training program because it is important to our community safety,” said its president, Ruth Cole of Ridgewood,

“The Jewish community remains highly vulnerable to terrorist threats and, therefore, it is vital that we remain vigilant, prepared, and well-trained and that our community security communications network is well integrated from the initial receipt of alerts to rapid response deployment,” Cole said.

Morning briefings by officials from the U.S Department of Homeland Security and the Anti-Defamation League were followed by training to strengthen preparedness and assessment strategies for Jewish communal institutions, including federations, day schools, synagogues, JCCs, and other organizations.

Josh Pruzansky, N.J. regional director of public policy for the Institute for Public Affairs of the Orthodox Union, said that “synagogues and day schools have become the front line against terror and the staff of these institutions are our last line of defense…. [T]o provide practical training and guidance to them in how to react in an emergency is, unfortunately, critical. We are grateful to New Jersey’s leadership for recognizing this need and partnering with the Jewish community to meet it, especially Governor Christie, the lieutenant governor, and Director [Charles] McKenna” of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

McKenna, the keynote speaker, said, “We will all be safer if people say something when they see something.” He added that his agency “has been at the forefront in reporting suspicious activity through the Counter Terrorism Watch, its 24 hour-tip line.”

The convenors advise that suspicious activity should be reported by phone to 1-866-4-SAFE-NJ (1-866-472-3365), fax (609) 530-3650 or by e-mail to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 
 
 
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