Security: Should We Be Alarmists?

World events in recent weeks have once again made many of us sensitive to issues of security. Paris, Mali, Colorado Springs. It is sad, but tragic events like what we have recently experienced will no doubt happen again. The world remains a crazy place.

During the summer, I wrote a blog about synagogue security as a way to encourage synagogue leaders to think about their security plans for the High Holy Days. I went to Shabbat morning worship yesterday and was reminded of my blog in July. I parked my car, walked through the back entrance by the parking lot and walked along the long hallway to the chapel in the front of the building. The 9 people who were in the chapel waiting for someone –me – to make the minyan (I hate when that happens) were the first people I saw.

I have a hunch our synagogue is not that different than many others. On most days, what I described above is what people experience when they walk into the building. Except during the preschool program when parents have a security wand to allow them in. But for Religious School and worship services, there is open access.

With what is going on in the world today, can we ever have peace of mind? You could say that the chances of something happening at a suburban synagogue are quite small. But of course, that is what we thought about the restaurants and music venue in Paris a few weeks ago. And going to the movies in Aurora, Colorado last year.

Our extended family loves going to the movies over Thanksgiving weekend. And this Thanksgiving was no different. At the two movie theaters I went to, things seemed pretty normal with no real police presence.

I don’t think we need to be alarmists. But I do think that being cautious is worthwhile. Check with your local police department about what they think would be optimal security for your synagogue when people are in the building. Do we want to have an environment in our synagogues where anyone attending Shabbat Worship has to show an ID? I don’t think so. But having a police or security presence is both a deterrent and gives people comfort.

Such a security presence isn’t cheap. In addition to having a security presence on Shabbat, what about when any staff are in the building? What about when there is any kind of meeting of the board or one if its committees or task forces? Additional costs to the annual budget could be a real challenge – as little as $10,000 to $12,000 if you want to have a security guard at Shabbat worship services to as much as $50,000 or higher if you want to have a security presence whenever people are in the building. Charging a special security fee, as many synagogues do, of an additional $100-$150 seems worth peace of mind for synagogue leaders as well as congregants.

I am not an advocate of training congregants to serve as synagogue security. This is an area that really is best left to the professionals.

ADL’s synagogue security guide, last updated in 2005, remains the key resource for synagogue leaders. Perhaps the ADL and the denominational movements should get together in order to revise it. The important steps here are to consult with local law enforcement and for the synagogue leadership to create a security plan. And in the spirit of transparency, congregants should know about steps synagogue leaders are taking regarding security.




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