February 21, 2020

After Poway: Security Concerns

A makeshift memorial was placed by a light pole a block away from a shooting incident where one person was killed at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, north of San Diego, California, U.S. April 27, 2019. REUTERS/John Gastaldo

In the wake of the deadly attack on April 27 at the Chabad of Poway, local leaders are evaluating security measures at their respective facilities. 

Among them is Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, who said Federation’s Community Security Initiative (CSI) is helping to address the community’s concerns.

“In L.A., we started CSI to make sure people feel safe in Jewish places, in synagogues, schools,” Sanderson said. “We have to redouble our efforts to keep the community secure and identify and root out this evil.”

Launched in 2012, CSI bolsters security across the city by serving as a liaison between law enforcement and Jewish institutions. CSI draws on a database linking hundreds of Jewish sites and has a network of more than 250 synagogues, schools and other institutions, and it has trained more than 2,000 people in safety and security measures.

“We’re literally talking moment to moment to every Jewish institution and its leadership, doing everything we can to stop these folks [who would do harm] before they walk into a synagogue,” Sanderson said. “For that, we are relying on law enforcement and we should be relying on the community, too.”

A few hours after the suspected 19-year-old gunman walked into the San Diego County-based Chabad and allegedly fired on worshippers, Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue in West L.A. received an email alert from CSI with the subject line: “Attack on Jewish site.”

The email noted that CSI had been in touch with its law enforcement partners about the shooting; that there was no direct threat to the L.A. region at that time; and that CSI was available to address any concerns about safety issues. 

“We’re literally talking moment to moment to every Jewish institution and its leadership, doing everything we can to stop these folks [who would do harm] before they walk in a synagogue.” — Jay Sanderson 

Feinstein told the Journal his relationship with CSI is just one facet of his congregation’s multidimensional approach to security, including measures that had been in place long before the Poway attack, where Lori Gilbert-Kaye was killed and three others were injured, and the Pittsburgh shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in October, where 11 people were killed.

“Our response [to incidents like those] is we have really good security at the synagogue, and we have to,” Feinstein said following the Poway shooting. “When I arrived 17 years ago, our security was not worthy of the name. Now we have walls and guards and no one questions why. People may clamor for more.”

Local Jewish organizations also are looking to state and federal authorities to bolster safety measures, and elected officials appear to be coming through. Following the Chabad shooting, Gov. Gavin Newsom responded to a request from the California Legislative Jewish Caucus and allocated $15 million for security at synagogues, mosques and other institutions.

California Legislative Jewish Caucus Vice Chair and state Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino) thanked Newsom in a statement, saying, “The most basic and fundamental responsibility of government is to protect its citizens, and we need more than thoughts and prayers to keep us safe from hate-motivated violence. We’re unwilling to accept this as the new normal. Everyone should feel safe and comfortable in a house of worship, regardless of their faith. We are very grateful to Governor Newsom for his leadership to improve the safety of Jews and other groups targeted by hate-motivated violence.”

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) San Diego Regional Director Tammy Gillies was on the ground in Poway within an hour of the shooting there, working with law enforcement. 

Gillies told the Journal, “Everybody should have the right to worship in their own place of worship without having to feel afraid . . .  and I think the community is working toward that goal.”