Tragedy in Aurora: Thinking About Synagogue Security

Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones affected by the horrible tragedy in Aurora, Colorado last Friday morning.   Who among us would ever think twice about going to a movie and being afraid what might happen?

Such a tragic event is a reminder that we must be aware of the security plans that are in place at our congregations. Particularly in the coming weeks as the High Holy Days will bring our communities together en masse as hundreds and thousands of people will gather for worship and community.

In my travels to synagogues across North America, I am keenly aware of how synagogues approach security.  There has been the occasion when the front door has been open during normal business hours and I have been able to walk right in. No one was aware of my presence until I announced myself to the staff working in the main office.

More often than not, there is some type of a buzzer system at the main entrance, along with the use of a video monitor, and someone from the synagogue office must buzz me in.

Several years ago, I served as an usher at my synagogue on the High Holy Days. We were asked to be sure that everyone coming in to our synagogue had High Holy Day tickets. And another usher took the responsibility to announce to our small group of volunteer ushers that we should be sure to inspect all of the bags that people were carrying – purses, baby bags, as well as Tallit bags. I asked what we should do if we found something of concern during such a bag check.  The gentleman responded that our synagogue had hired a couple of plainclothes police officers, and we should go and find them.

In thinking about this experience, maybe it might have been a good idea for the ushers to have met with the police officers to review our responsibilities as well as to be sure that we knew who they were and where they would be stationed in our building.  If bag inspection was so important, perhaps the officers should have been the ones who conducted it.

Now is the time to develop a security game plan for the High Holy Days.  Congregants should feel safe while participating in worship. People should also feel comfortable that the leadership of the synagogue is addressing security concerns. Security doesn’t have to be overwhelming. But it does have to be present for congregants to feel safe.

The important thing is to develop a plan now. I have included some resources below that should be helpful to you. You always want to rely on your good judgment and common sense.  And you should make it a point to always consult with local law enforcement officials early on.  And most of all, you want everyone to have a wonderful worship experience and to feel safe.

Security Resources:

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

ADL,  “Protecting Your Jewish Institution: Security Strategies for Today’s Dangerous World”

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

Secure Community Network

 

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