This is not a topic I enjoy writing about.
Recent events in Charleston and even in Chattanooga have given me pause to think about safety. Is any place in the world 100% safe? Churches, military recruitment centers, Kosher supermarkets, let alone subways and malls.
I have blogged before about my amazement when I visit a synagogue and I can open the front door and walk right to the synagogue’s office without anyone stopping me. Similarly, I have been to synagogues where I couldn’t even enter the parking lot without having my car searched and my knapsack inspected. It seems that security is more intense in larger metropolitan communities and especially when there is an early childhood program.
Recently, a Senate Subcommittee increased the allocation for security that is available for religious institutions in the United States from $13 million to $25 million. It is interesting that the U.S. government makes funds available for security, but will not yet provide funds to houses of worship for disaster relief through FEMA. Due to church-state separation, there are many synagogues that, out of principle, will never look to the U.S. Government for any funds that may be available.
In terms of the government funding that may be available for synagogue security, is any amount a guarantee of safety?
I don’t think of myself as an alarmist. Being cautious and prepared has always been my motto. Now is the time for the Chairperson of the Synagogue House Committee and the Executive Director to review the security plan from last year that was in place for the High Holy Days. Schedule a meeting with local law enforcement officials to seek their input and approval of this year’s plan. At the same time, it is a good idea to check in with the local fire officials as well. Many people will be gathering in one place and you want to be sure that every precaution be taken in terms of both security and fire safety.
Maybe the use of High Holy Day tickets is not a bad thing after all. The ticket is one easy way to identify people who are supposed to be in the building. There have been occasions that I have forgotten our tickets. I haven’t bothered to go back home and get the tickets because I am 95% sure I will know one of the ushers. But the usher shouldn’t let me in without some form of identification to check to be sure I am a member, or on some type of approved list.
What does this mean for synagogues whose High Holy Day Worship is open to everyone? Posts on Facebook and the website should encourage all to come and to call or email the synagogue office for more information. Whether it be a ticket or just having a name on a list, there is some screening process that should be taking place.
Check out this Synagogue Security Guide from the ADL. For some, having a police presence by the entryway also give people peace of mind and acts as a deterrent.