If your gut tells you something seems suspicious, report it

On Aug. 30, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) held its annual security meeting at its Los Angeles headquarters to advise local Jewish leaders on possible threats facing the community in advance of the High Holy Days.

United States Postal Inspector Glenn Fiene and ADL civil rights specialist Steven Sheinberg discussed “How to Deal With Suspicious Mail” and “Being Safe and Welcoming: Practical Strategies for Jewish Institutions,” respectively.

An FBI spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said no additional threats are facing the Jewish community in light of the High Holy Days, but the ADL, local law enforcement and Jewish institutions will continue to work together on preventive security measures.

“Our attitude toward combating hatred and bigotry is comprehensive,” said Amanda Susskind, ADL Pacific Southwest regional director. “We have both a preventive and responsive role.”

The briefing drew 80 representatives of synagogues, Jewish institutions and organizations, including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Temple Israel of Hollywood and Beth Jacob Congregation.

Fiene spoke at length about mail bombs and attacks.

“We haven’t had a bomb in the mail for a couple years in this area,” he said, but he described what people should be aware of when receiving packages: whether the package came from a foreign country; if there is excessive postage or misspelled words on the envelope; if it’s bulky, lopsided, has a strange odor and/or doesn’t have a return address.

“If your gut feeling tells you something’s wrong with a letter or parcel, call us, call a local bomb squad immediately,” he said.

Sheinberg said leaders of Jewish institutions should make a “security risk profile” and can implement a strong security plan by identifying the institution’s members and neighbors, getting technology and equipment that is site-appropriate, and ensuring that everyone tasked with security is doing his/her job — otherwise, expensive technology and equipment won’t help in keeping the institution safe.

Sheinberg acknowledged that developing comprehensive security plans might contradict a Jewish institution’s mission of inclusiveness — but it’s about finding the balance, he said.

“Having an open-door policy doesn’t mean every door needs to be open,” he said. “There are ways to think about and plan for your institution so you can make the institution as open and welcoming as you’re comfortable with.”

The ADL security briefing takes place each year right before Rosh Hashanah. The event on Aug. 30 ran for three hours.

The ADL is encouraging Jewish institutions to download its security manual, “Protecting Your Jewish Institution,” available for free on the ADL Web site. Susskind said the resource is updated regularly.

Leslie Gersicoff, director of the Jewish Labor Committee Western Region, was among the Jewish leaders who attended the briefing.

“Particularly with the holidays coming again, with the upheaval in the world, as agitated as people are over the economic situation, it’s great to be aware of possible threats,” Gersicoff said in an interview. “And ADL has been a wonderful partner organization.”