Charlottesville. North Korea. Afghanistan. The Eclipse. The past couple of weeks have been kind of crazy. Perhaps it is fortuitous that the Eclipse and its path of totality across a swath of the United States happened at the time it did. Or maybe there is intention behind the timing and confluence of events. Regardless, spreading God’s light throughout the very dark places in our world – “By Your Light do we see light” (Psalms 36:9) – remains an appropriate and timely calling.
Alan Zimmerman, the president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, VA shared his story of the synagogue’s Shabbat experience during the White Nationalists march just 10 days ago. Many of you have probably read it. It is a story that I have been thinking a lot about since it happened.
What would happen if White Nationalists were marching down Broad Street in Bloomfield, NJ in front of my synagogue – Temple Ner Tamid? Or on 5th Avenue in New York City in front of Congregation Emanu-El? Or on Ward Street in Newton, MA in front of Temple Emanuel? Or your synagogue?
I have always been an optimist – the cup is always half full rather than half empty. But Charlottesville caused me to do some thinking that is out of character for me. What if such a march happened on Yom Kippur? I am all for free speech and the right to assembly guaranteed by the Constitution. But hearing people outside of the synagogue chant “Jews will not replace us” and simply yelling “Sieg Heil” seems surreal.
45 states have open carry laws – meaning that people can legally carry guns holstered on their belts or slung on their shoulders for all to see. A bit intimidating, don’t you think?
It is like we are all stuck in a Fellini film and can’t find our way out. But this is real! Charlottesville did happen.
And in just 4 weeks, people will be gathering en masse in synagogues and in other places and spaces to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And each Shabbat – while most often in smaller numbers – before and after that.
There are many resources about synagogue security. I have blogged about it. Your local Jewish Federation, ADL, the Religious Action Center are organizations with some useful information on their websites.
In preparation for the High Holy Days, and for all that happens at the synagogue every day, now is the time to check in with the local police department. Walk through your building with local police officials to review the security protocols when people are not in the building. And review security practices for daily operations as well as for the High Holy Days.
I still remain an optimist. But what happened in Charlottesville was not a Fellini film. It is the shock of it that highlights the importance of preparation regarding synagogue security matters.