Holidays, Arrests Add to Terror Fears

When she looks out from the bimah, Rabbi Zoe Klein of Temple Isaiah sees mostly known faces, but occasionally there is the odd or unknown person who could be trouble.

For such an occasion, Temple Isaiah and other Southern California synagogues have installed panic button-style buzzers that summon shul guards, much like a bank teller’s silent alarm alerts police to a stickup. It is one of many security tools used when synagogues become very crowded, often with new faces, during the High Holidays.

Jewish community concerns over security have increased in recent months following the arrest and indictment of four men for allegedly planning attacks on local Jewish targets, including a synagogue and the Israeli consulate.

This case was the backdrop for a High Holidays security briefing held last week at the West Los Angeles headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). About 90 representatives from synagogues and Jewish institutions attended. Law enforcement officials said they knew of no specific upcoming threats and focused instead on prevention programs, such as Operation Archangel, a new, local multiagency anti-terrorism initiative.

“We can’t get to every one of the synagogues and each one of the churches,” LAPD Sgt. Jim Harpster, assigned to Archangel, told the gathering. “Anything that’s unusual, please report it. There hasn’t been an attack where somebody hasn’t seen something.”

Even without a specific threat, synagogue leaders must be alert to terrorism risks, while also keeping in mind longstanding threats arising from anti-Semitism. “California has perhaps the most active skinhead scene in the country,” ADL investigative researcher Joanna Mendelson said.

Synagogues are not taking the matter lightly. Last year, the American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeles office began work to set up an electronic early warning system linking local police and Jewish institutions. It’s called the Secure Community Alert Network, or SCAN. It’s operational in New York City, but hasn’t yet needed to be used.

In Los Angeles, “right now it’s sort of a work in progress,” said Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, executive director of the L.A. office of the American Jewish Committee, which is providing funding. “It just hasn’t come forward as quickly as possible. Fortunately there hasn’t been a need in L.A.”

Many synagogues, like Temple Isaiah in Rancho Park, already have an internal form of such a system, by which someone on the bimah can press an emergency call button. The process adds one more necessary responsibility to the duties of rabbis and cantors.

“I see who walks through the door,” Klein said. “I see if someone’s reaching for their bag. Everyone in the congregation is facing forward. We’re the only ones facing them who can see what’s going on out there. It’s not just about having security at the door for who comes in, but having a method of communicating once services are under way.”

The task becomes trickier during the High Holidays as synagogues become crowded, often with new faces.

Whether the Homeland Security terror-threat level is at orange or yellow, security is a constant but quiet fact of life at Jewish institutions. In Bel Air, the University of Judaism merges its security efforts with neighbors Stephen S. Wise Temple across the street and the Casiano Bel Air Homeowners Association. Near Beverly Hills, the Wilshire Boulevard headquarters of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles uses large, potted sidewalk trees as decorous security barriers.

Further west down Wilshire is Westwood’s Sinai Temple, where throngs of smartly dressed Conservative Jews will crowd into the expanded sanctuary for the High Holidays. The shul normally is home to about 1,500 families but over the High Holidays it will host an expected 5,000 worshippers, who will require extra seats, extra parking and extra guards, whose cost is over and above Sinai’s estimated $300,000 annual security budget.

“On the High Holidays I pay another $37,000,” Sinai Executive Director Howard Lesner said. His extended security contingent will include plainclothes, off-duty police officers. About 14 months ago, Sinai installed new security cameras.

“It’s all digitalized now, all color,” Lesner said. “We have one of the most secure institutions. We reduced our entrances to one way driving in and one way walking in.”

But Lesner does not publicize all the particulars: “The greatest security is to not tell everybody what you’re doing.”


Diplomacy and Skepticism

Middle East diplomacy shifted to New York this week amid widespread skepticism that there is any formula that can convince Israel and the Palestinians to make even slight progress toward peace.

Helping fuel the skepticism were two Palestinian terror attacks that coincided with the diplomatic meetings and claimed the lives of at least 11 Israelis. On Wednesday, two suicide bombers staged an attack in the heart of Tel Aviv, outside a move theater, killing at least three. A day earlier, in an attack similar to one carried out last December, Palestinian terrorists set off a bomb as a bus neared the entrance to the West Bank settlement of Immanuel and then opened fire as people fled the bus.Eight Israelis were killed, including two infants.

Tuesday’s attack came hours before officials from the so-called Quartet the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations — met in New York in an effort to devise a strategy that would help Israel and the Palestinians overcome their seemingly intractable differences.

The parties emerged with a general agreement to follow President Bush’s June 24 call for the evolution of a Palestinian state within three years. But major differences still exist between the United States and the other international mediators on how to get there. Bush had said a provisional state could emerge only after the Palestinians implement serious economic and political reforms. The others seem to disagree.

Another major area of disagreement involves the future status of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. The United States has made it clear that they it wants Arafat out of power — or at least away from the day-to-day responsibilities of running the Palestinian Authority. The Europeans, Russians and U.N. leaders say Arafat is the democratically elected leader of the Palestinian people and therefore should be involved in the reform process.

Indeed, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters after the first round of meetings on Tuesday: "As for Arafat, we all have our respective positions. The U.N. still recognizes Chairman Arafat and we will continue to deal with him until the Palestinians decide otherwise."

Another point of contention is whether initial reform should begin on the security front alone, as the United States argues, or in conjunction with economic and infrastructure reform, as the other international players suggest.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he would like ideally for security, political and economic reform to work in parallel, but the top priority was to get a "better handle" on the security situation. Powell said the CIA is working on a new plan to protect Israel from terrorist attacks. The United States is discussing the security plan with Palestinian officials, Powell added. The other leaders countered that humanitarian and infrastructure reform was necessary to implement security.

Robert Satloff, director of policy and strategic planning for the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, says the Quartet’s communique contradicts much of what Bush outlined in his June speech.

"Although no one should have expected the Quartet to parrot the president’s speech, the fact that its statement contradicts that speech in critical areas is a worrisome sign that disagreements on Middle East policy persist not only among America’s allies, but within the administration itself," Satloff wrote this week in an analysis.

Among the disagreements he notes, is the fact that the Quartet seeks statehood not as the end of negotiations but as the end of implementation of reforms to the Palestinian government, and makes no mention of provisional statehood, as Bush suggested. It also calls for Israel to immediately release tax revenue funds, instead of seeking "honest and accountable hands," as the president suggested.

The State Department entered Tuesday’s meetings seeking a dialogue with its diplomatic partners to determine clear criteria for Palestinian reform. The United States has not drafted such criteria, a State Department official said, but the goal is to announce them by late August. State Department officials said they were also seeking "centralized, transparent accountable Palestinian institutions" and "reciprocal steps by Israel" as the Palestinians move forward with reform.

Much of what emerges from this week’s meetings in New York with the Quartet and with Arab leaders from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan will be utilized by a newly created international task force. The task force, involving the Quartet plus Japan, Norway, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, will seek to implement financial reforms within the Palestinian government.

And while some consensus has been reached by the Quartet on how to move forward, questions remain as to whether Israeli or Palestinian officials will be willing to accept their proposals. To that end, positive signs have emerged. Arab leaders, meeting with Powell on Wednesday, expressed support for the approach the United States has outlined for changes within the Palestinian government.

"Maybe we do not agree on all the details, but we are determined to work together for peace and I think we will succeed to bring peace to this area under the banner of legitimacy, democracy and prosperity for all," said Ahmed Maher, Egypt’s foreign minister.

The Arab leaders, who reportedly were seeking a statehood declaration after the January elections, also seem to have acquiesced to the three-year timetable the United States has proposed. In addition, a senior Palestinian official told the Associated Press on Wednesday that Arafat was considering appointing a prime minister to share day-to-day leadership responsibilities, once a Palestinian state is declared. While Israel was not a participant in this week’s meetings, Israeli officials were watching closely.

"If this is perceived as being Israeli-led, it’s not going to succeed, and we want it to succeed," an Israeli official in Washington said.

In anticipation of the meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent a telegram to Powell outlining the Israeli position. According to reports, Sharon stressed that security is still Israel’s utmost priority.

Sharon’s telegram came on the heels of one sent to Powell by Arafat in which the Palestinian leader spelled out his vision for reforms in the Palestinian Authority. For his part, Sharon has long maintained that there would be no negotiations with the Palestinians as long as violence continues. Sharon has also said that Arafat must be replaced before there can be any meaningful negotiations.

A State Department official said plans are being discussed for another working meeting of the international task force and the Quartet in August, around the time the United States would like to announce its benchmark proposals.

World Briefs

Amnesty Blasts Suicide Attacks

A report by Amnesty International calls Palestinian terror attacks on Israeli civilians “crimes against humanity.” None of the Israeli military’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip justify Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians, the report added.

Land Bill Stand Reversed

Israel’s Cabinet retracted its support for a bill that could bar Israeli Arabs from owning homes on state-owned land. The Cabinet voted 22-2 Sunday to refer the bill for review by a governmental committee on constitutional affairs. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon defended the decision, saying it could harm Arab-Jewish relations. Last week, the Cabinet created a furor when it voted to back the bill.

Yeshiva Bill Sparks Threat

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers threatened to bolt the Israeli government over a bill granting draft exemptions for yeshiva students. The lawmakers took issue with a provision in the bill requiring yeshiva students to serve 12 days a year in the Civil Guard. Meanwhile, the secular Shinui and Meretz parties threatened to submit no-confidence motions in the government, charging that the bill institutionalizes draft-dodging.

Deri Released on Parole

Aryeh Deri, the former leader of Israel’s Orthodox Shas Party was freed Monday after serving two years of a three-year sentence for accepting bribes and misappropriating state funds. Deri said upon his release that he would fight to clear his name. When granting him early release, a parole board ruled that he cannot enter politics for one year.

Toronto Murder Suspect Arrested

Toronto police arrested Christopher Steven McBride, the prime suspect in the murder of a Chasidic man, late Monday night following a raid on an apartment in the city’s West End. Police soon began to interrogate the prisoner, who is a slight 20-year-old with a shaved head and tattoos.

According to police, David Rosenzweig — a father of six who was wearing a kippah — was approached from behind by two men and a woman early Sunday morning. After one of the men stabbed him in the back, all three assailants fled the scene. While not ruling out that the attack was a hate crime, police said Monday there is no concrete evidence that Rosenzweig was murdered because of his religion.

Bedouin Judge Sworn in

Israel’s first Bedouin judge was sworn in. Nasser Abbed-Taheh, 39, was one of 35 new judges who were sworn in Monday at a ceremony at the president’s residence in Jerusalem.

Paris Exhibit Vandalized

An exhibition in Paris about children who were deported in 1942 by the Nazis was vandalized by a 55-year-old woman. Christiane Castillon, who had no prior police record and is not believed to belong to any extremist organization, explained the July 7 incident by saying that “people make too many allowances for Jews where the Holocaust is concerned.”

Seeds of Peace Founder Dies at 59

John Wallach, the founder of Seeds of Peace, died July 10 of lung cancer at 59. In 1993, Wallach proposed to then-Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres that the group be created to bring Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian youths together on neutral soil in the United States. Each summer since then, hundreds of Israeli and Arab teenagers have gathered in the woods of Maine in an effort to increase mutual understanding.

Shabbat Law Vetoed in Brazil

A law that would have recognized Saturday as a day of rest was vetoed by the governor of a Brazilian state. The bill would have given official recognition to the beliefs of some 12,000 Jews who live in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Following the governor’s veto, a movement has been launched in an effort to reverse that decision.

ADL Provides Workplace Guide

The Anti-Defamation League released a guide detailing U.S. laws on accommodating religious observance in the workplace. “Religious Accommodation in the Workplace” offers employees and employers general information on relevant federal laws. It is available at

Briefs by Jewish Telegraphic Agency.