When our son was 4, he went to a school that was Pre-K to Grade 2. Mrs. Jones sat at a desk greeting all visitors who arrived. She was the kind of woman who put the fear of God into most people. When she told you that you had to sign in, you did it.
If Mrs. Jones had been at the desk in the entryway at the elementary school in Sandy Hook, or in the lobby at the Tree of Life Synagogue, she would have certainly been among those who perished.
I was in Italy this past week following the tragic news on social media. Seeing soldiers at train stations, along with what seemed like a significant police presence is something that I no longer give a lot of thought. Being in Israel a lot and of course a near daily commute through Penn Station in New York since 9/11 has caused this to be the norm.
The first mass shooting in a U.S. synagogue shakes us all at our core. Similar occurrences have happened at churches (Sutherland Springs, TX and Charleston, SC), a movie theater (Aurora, CO), and a nightclub (Orlando, FL), and of course schools – Columbine, CO, Sandy Hook, CT and Parkland, FL. And just last night at a Dance Club for young people in Thousand Oaks, CA.
Back to the synagogue – will we ever again feel safe? I want us to get there. It will be hard for many of us to walk in to Shabbat worship or drop off our kids at Religious School and not think about safety – at least for several weeks. And our synagogue has an armed guard who sits at the entryway. Is that enough? Do we want our synagogues to be like in many cities and Europe where armed soldiers are standing guard at the entrance? And don’t you think the leadership of churches and mosques have similar needs?
One of the articles I read last week mentioned that a Conservative synagogue in New Jersey was spending $450,000 – 1/3 of its annual budget – annually on security. There was also an article in The Forward about an Orthodox synagogue in Baltimore – with a Day School – spending more than $300,000!! An outcome of last week will no doubt be increased security expenses for many synagogues, and other Jewish institutions throughout North America.
And now there are even synagogue leaders encouraging congregants who have a permit to carry a concealed weapon to do so when they come to worship.
Will such mass shooting ever stop? I am all for the Second Amendment, but until there are responsible gun laws, our fears about guns will always be on our minds. Do people really need to have an AR-15? Or does one person really need to have multiple AR-15s and hand guns, like many of the alleged shooters throughout the years?
People have all kinds of reasons not to attend synagogue and spend the money necessary to become part of sacred communities. The local synagogue could spend significant funds for security. And security will still be just another one of those reasons that keep people away.
There are no easy answers. Consult with your local police department for advice regarding security. Really listen to the concerns of congregants and be transparent with them about the steps you are taking regarding security.