Keep our shuls safe but still friendly


“Open for us the gates at the time of their closing.”

Worshippers conclude their Yom Kippur prayers every year with this refrain — a final supplication to be sealed in the Book of Life — during the Neilah Shearim service that closes the holiday.

Neilah Shearim, more commonly known as Neilah, literally means, “locking the gates.” As we pray for the metaphorical heavenly gates of forgiveness to remain open this Yom Kippur, how can we ensure that the physical gates of our Jewish institutions do the same?

Security measures at Jewish institutions, and for that matter all religious institutions, are an unfortunate priority these days. On the High Holy Days, we must protect ourselves with a security detail and sometimes even metal detectors and bag checks so that we may devote our time in synagogue to prayer instead of worry.

In the presence of heightened security at our religious institutions, it is essential that our synagogues still feel like warm and welcoming houses of worship, not like airports.

We can demonstrate hospitality by viewing our security professionals as not only the safe-keepers of our institutions, but as the individuals who create a welcoming atmosphere. They are the men and women that newcomers first encounter when entering our institutions. Let’s remind security personnel of the importance of a smile and friendly greeting even while they do the essential work of protecting our institutions.

If possible, volunteer greeters or staff members should be stationed at the entrance with the security professionals. They can help welcome worshippers and answer any questions about the synagogue, holidays and security process. A simple note of apology posted on the entrance to the building also helps mitigate any ill feelings that might emerge from the encounter with security.

Even for those on the inside of the Jewish community, security is an unwelcome challenge. On our way to pray in a building that we may visit regularly with no questioning at all, suddenly we are given the third degree on a few days of the year. But we accept the security because we understand its importance and already are comfortable within the walls of our Jewish institutions.

For newcomers at High Holy Day services, particularly the many friends and family of diverse religious backgrounds who may accompany us, the experience of approaching a Jewish institution may be intimidating on its own. Add in the metal detectors, security detail and questioning, and the experience of entering High Holy Days services becomes a deterrent from engaging with the Jewish community.

The movement for a “Big Tent Judaism” now gaining currency among hundreds of Jewish organizations encourages us to welcome all newcomers and lower barriers to participation. While security presence on the High Holy Days is non-negotiable for most Jewish institutions, there are ways we can open our gates even with the presence of security.

Each institution must evaluate with their security professionals how they can best welcome worshippers while maintaining their safety. We encourage Jewish organizations to meet with their staffs and boards in these crucial days before the High Holy Days to implement simple measures to ensure that our physical gates reflect the metaphorical heavenly gates, the very gates that open on Rosh Hashanah to provide all worshippers with the opportunity to seek repentance and renewal.

This year, use the High Holy Days to reflect on the physical and perceptual gates that act as barriers to the Jewish community. For one institution the gates may be security, and for another the gates may be language, literacy or cost.

This year — and for years to come — let’s take a cue from the High Holy Days liturgy and really open our gates to the many newcomers to our Jewish institutions. Let’s not miss this opportunity to demonstrate to newcomers and those returning to the Jewish community the Jewish value of hachnasat orechim, hospitality.

With sensitivity and action, we can work together to make sure that opening the gates at the time of their closing only exists as an element of the Yom Kippur liturgy.

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky is the executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, the coordinating partner of the Big Tent Judaism Coalition (www.bigtentjudaism.org). Rabbi Edward M. Feinstein is the senior rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

Op-ed courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Report from Beijing: Security, it’s not just for airports anymore


BEIJING (JTA)—Security checks no longer just for airports in Beijing

Olympic security is no easy task. It’s not just about the sports venues — attention must be paid to the entire city’s infrastructure, hot spots and transportation systems.

One of the transitions that I think Beijing residents have done with few complaints is adjust to bag x-ray security checks at the entrance of every subway station. This measure was added at the end of June as part of a three-month campaign to secure the city for the Olympics and Paralympics, yet even now, there are still a few stray stations where a guard manually looks in your bag for lack of a scanning machine.

Want to ride the subway? Let’s see what you’re packing.

This is the kind of treatment one might be used to in Israel, but not in freewheeling China.

When I ate at Dini’s kosher restaurant two nights before the Opening Ceremony, I was greeted by a 20-year-old Chinese guard in a reflective security vest with the Hebrew word “Bitachon” (security) on the front and a scanner wand in hand. My Israeli security check flashbacks returned — although I never spoke in Mandarin to the guys who checked my bag at the entrance to Jerusalem bars.

I don’t think China has quite reached the “chefetz chashud,” or suspicious object, level of alertness that one might find in Israel (and lately in the United States as well), where seeing an abandoned bag or anything out of the ordinary would merit a call to the authorities.

Maybe they are more vigilant out in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, where Muslim separatist sentiment is strong and there have been both thwarted and actualized attacks in recent months. This story shows how the Chinese decided to rely on a low-tech approach to sounding the alarm – with a whistle.

All jokes about whistles aside, many Chinese people I have talked to in Beijing have insisted how Chinese terrorists, usually referring to Xinjiang or sometimes Tibetans, are “really fierce.” I wonder whether this is based on fear-mongering by the domestic media or not. On the one hand, 16 officers were killed and another 16 were injured in the western capital Kashgar this week when two men rammed a dump truck and hurled explosives at a group of jogging policemen. But of course, this kind of incident is used to crack down on individual freedoms and the rights of the press, who are not being afforded all the openness that was promised for the duration of the Olympics as evidenced by the recent beating of two Japanese journalists suffered while covering the most recent Xinjiang incident

The Israeli Embassy will have an event on Monday, Aug. 18 to commemorate the most fatal breach of Olympic security, the 1972 Munich Games where 11 Israeli athletes were killed after a terrorist infiltration of their Olympic Village accommodations. This tragedy was commemorated even earlier this year in Beijing, at the Chabad Purim party, which was Olympics-themed but included several placards and handouts about the athletes who died in ‘72.

With such a sobering legacy of Israeli Olympic participation, you would think that security would be more intense for the Jewish state’s athletes as compared to other delegations in the village. Yet Ephraim Zinger, the secretary-general of the Israeli Olympic Committee and chief of misson, says the Israelis are on the list of countries with the most sensitive security issues, but “we aren’t the only ones, and we aren’t at the top of the list either.”

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