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Colleyville Standoff: Synagogues Cannot Be Fortresses


A couple of years in the past, in response to the lethal 2018 assault on the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the synagogue the place my youngsters and husband are members requested me to advise its new safety committee. Simple sufficient. It’s what I do for corporations, public entities, faculties, and sports activities groups. My job is to evaluate danger and buttress defenses in response to these dangers. That’s it. I do chilly calculations, not emotion. On that event, nevertheless, dispassion was a legal responsibility.

My relationship to the synagogue, as an Arab American elevating Jewish youngsters, is simpler than the debates of our time would counsel. The synagogue is a progressive place, open to the stranger and the non-convert. Sufficient interfaith households belong that the congregation way back shed any formal notion of what it means to be a “Jewish household.” It modified its calendar, even, and canceled Hebrew faculty on Easter Sunday to accommodate its various members. When my three children had been making ready for his or her bar and bat mitzvahs and the social occasions surrounding them, the division of labor was clear: Their father would give attention to their souls, and I’d give attention to logistics.

The very existence of the safety committee was an indication of concern about anti-Semitism and hate crimes. That concern was and is rational. Jews have been focused with lethal violence not too long ago in Pittsburgh; Poway, California; Jersey Metropolis, New Jersey; Monsey, New York; and, this weekend, Colleyville, Texas, the place a British nationwide took hostages on the Congregation Beth Israel throughout an 11-hour ordeal. In the present day, one in 4 American Jews says that their cultural or non secular establishments have been attacked, threatened, or defaced over the previous 5 years. The Jewish neighborhood is menaced by each right-wing extremists and Islamic jihadists.

The members of the committee had been after all conscious of the risk, however that they had no background in the right way to counter it. I defined that, typically, the general purpose is to reduce dangers whereas maximizing defenses. However minimizing dangers will not be straightforward for one temple to do alone, so the neighborhood must give attention to constructing defenses.

I offered a guidelines: exterior protections, akin to fencing or walling off areas uncovered to busy streets; contracting safety guards in the course of the Excessive Holidays; video cameras; active-shooter coaching. Once more, no emotion. The committee members nodded alongside. “And it is best to take into account some entry-access safety, so individuals should establish themselves with badges earlier than they will are available in,” I continued. That, it seems, was an excessive amount of. The historic significance of asking Jews to hold badges had been misplaced on me; so was the concept entry is each a vulnerability and important to the establishment.

At airports, stadiums, even faculties, security and safety procedures are put in place to guard the essence of the establishment itself: journey, recreation, training. We could not just like the fortress aesthetic, however we’ve come to just accept it.

However what if the essence of a spot is that it’s defenseless? What if its capability to welcome others, to be hospitable to strangers, is its id? What if vulnerability is its unspoken mission? That’s the problem I hadn’t thought-about. I tread fastidiously right here talking of a faith that I do know solely via marriage. I’ve sturdy emotions about Israel, not not too long ago recognized for its peaceable stance towards its Arab residents. However within the U.S., for a Jewish congregation to grow to be a fortress would appear too militaristic, too aggressive. To make a mushy goal more durable would extra doubtless change the goal than deter the attacker.

In safety, we view vulnerabilities as inherently dangerous. We resolve the issue with layered defenses: extra locks, extra surveillance. Deprive strangers of entry to your temple, I urged the committee members, and have congregants carry ID. They’d have none of it. Entry was a vulnerability embedded within the establishment, and no safety professional may change that—we do logistics, not souls.

The standoff in Colleyville ended with the attacker lifeless and the hostages unhurt. However throughout the nation, synagogues are little doubt convening their safety committees, questioning what extra they will do to defend their members with out dropping their important vulnerability. A synagogue will not be like an airport or a stadium. When it turns into a fortress, one thing immeasurable is misplaced.

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