October 22, 2019

ADL preps community for High Holy Days security demands

The three silent surveillance videos showed an all-too-disturbing sequence of events: First, a shooter carries a rifle into a supermarket in broad daylight; people flee the store and run for their lives. The shooter begins firing at people inside the market before struggling with a gun that appears to be jamming while he stomps around the aisles looking for more vict-ims.

These images from a January shooting in a Paris kosher supermarket that resulted in the deaths of four Jews were shown at this year’s local Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Jewish security briefing, which explored the topic “What Can the U.S. Jewish Community Learn from Recent Acts of Anti-Semitic Terrorism in Europe?”

“What happens in Europe doesn’t stay in Europe,” Ariella Schusterman, associate regional director at the ADL, said during the Aug. 11 event at the organization’s Century City-based office.  

The annual security briefing takes place in advance of the High Holy Days season, a time of year when Jewish synagogues, social service organizations and day schools are generally on higher alert for security threats. The main topic varies — last year’s topic was cybersecurity — but every installment addresses evergreen concerns, such as how to balance security with inclusivity, the question of armed guards and more. 

This year’s main speaker, Michael P. Downing, deputy chief and commanding officer with the Los Angeles Police Department’s counterterrorism and special operations bureau, said recent European incidents such as this year’s supermarket shooting in Paris, the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead and a deadly shooting at a synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark, offer tragic but useful lessons. 

One of those lessons is how the radicalization of perpetrators occurs. In Europe, the speakers at the briefing said, officials have found that terrorists were radicalized in prisons, on the Internet, or by traveling overseas to fight alongside terrorist organizations before returning to their home countries and planning attacks. The same could be said for potential terrorists in the United States, they said.

“Not only is it the Jewish community, but it’s Western civilization under attack, and the Jewish community represents that in these [European] countries,” Schusterman said. 

In practical terms, the speakers focused on examples of low-cost and no-cost security. Schusterman spoke of congregants who are willing to volunteer as ushers and greet people at the door during the High Holy Days, but added that it is necessary — and free — for leaders to reiterate security procedures among the entire staff; every staff member, from the janitor to the rabbi, has “security somewhere in their job description.”

The ADL leader also emphasized the importance of cultivating relationships with law enforcement, advising people not to wait until an incident occurs to meet with local law enforcement. It harkened to a point Downing had made earlier in the day when the LAPD official suggested that greater involvement by law enforcement in Paris might have prevented the supermarket attack. 

“Just be aware,” Downing told the crowd at one point during his 25-minute remarks. “Learn how to participate.” 

More than 60 Jewish community leaders attended the event and several of them, including Marvin Goldsmith, former vice president of security at Beth Jacob in Beverly Hills and a congregant of the Orthodox shul for more than 50 years, brought up the question of armed guards during the Q-and-A. Downing and Schusterman each said it was up to the individual organization to determine what works best. 

As for the issue of congregants with gun licenses who want to carry a weapon into synagogue — something that has been brought up by local shooting clubs such as Bullets and Bagels and Jews Can Shoot — Downing gave a definitive response to the Journal: “Bad idea.” 

When the event was over, many attendees stuck around and discussed best security practices with one another. 

“At our congregation … every time someone sees a vehicle they don’t know, they let us know, which is great,” said Aaron Solomon, executive director of Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge. 

Rabbi Suzanne Singer of Temple Beth El in Riverside said the event reinforced the importance of law enforcement, civic leaders and community members working together on security issues.

“I think one of the main points that I got from today was the need to integrate disaffected communities and really bring them into the fold as far as, let’s say, being part of a police review board or chamber of commerce, and to really work with them,” Singer said, “rather than let the isolation continue.”