January 22, 2019

Is It Safe?

In light of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks, synagogues and other Jewish organizations scrambled to evaluate security precautions.

A week before Rosh Hashana, and with ongoing violence in Israel, the timing of the attacks raised serious concerns for many about the safety of high-profile Jewish events. Yet, though many organizations were reluctant to publicly discuss security measures, most Jewish representatives insisted that their congregations were adequately prepared.

“For the High Holy Days, we probably won’t do anything more than usual,” said Rabbi Eli Hecht of Chabad of South Bay and vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America. “Chabad of South Bay feels that the American population is as safe as they can be, and the Jewish population should feel equally safe,” Hecht said.

Rabbi Steven Carr-Reuben of Kehillat Israel echoed this confidence. “We’ve checked with local police, and we don’t feel personally threatened,” he said.

Should Jews feel safe to attend High Holy Day services? “Definitely so,” said Rabbi Baruch Shlomo Cunin of Chabad Lubavitch West Coast. “What, are we going to become hostage to fear?” he asked. Like most organizations, Cunin said he couldn’t make public any specifics about security measures, but, “we’ve always been conscious of the welfare of those who come to pray with us. I’m confident that we shall overcome this — light always overcomes darkness,” he told The Journal.

At Kol Tikva in Woodland Hills — as at other synagogues across the nation — Rabbi Steven Jacobs organized a healing service Tuesday night for congregants “to come and to grieve,” Jacobs said. Dr. Nazir Khaja, head of the Islamic Information Center, spoke at the Kol Tikva service to denounce the attacks and emphasize that they were perpetrated by a small number of lunatics who do not represent America’s Arab or Islamic population. “While we’ve brought on some extra security … you can’t throw up your hands. Jews can’t become neurotic that they’re after us,” Jacobs said.

The Jewish Federation’s Goldsmith Center shut down Tuesday after leadership consulted with police and firefighters. Federation executives and leaders of its various agencies met and conferred throughout the day, “putting a crisis plan in place,” said The Federation’s PR Director, Michelle Kleinert. For concerned synagogues, The Federation will “serve as an information resource on security,” she said.

A meeting of The Jewish Federation’s agency leaders and Jewish educators was hastily assembled to address new concerns raised by the terrorist attacks. Sheriff Lee Baca, Police Chief Bernard Parks, Fifth District city councilmember Jack Weiss, Federation president John Fishel and a panel of police officers and sheriff’s deputies spoke to the group Wednesday afternoon. After describing law enforcement officials’ coordinated response to Tuesday’s fears in Los Angeles, Parks assured the audience that the LAPD is “very sensitive to the holiday season,” with security plans in place for synagogues throughout the city.

Los Angeles police have their own concerns for the Jewish community. “Basically, we have no information about specific threats,” said LAPD Deputy Chief David Kalish, “but we’ve reviewed and expanded our list of potential political and religious targets.”

Kalish added that while the terrorist attacks have created a heightened sense of danger, the LAPD reviews its protection plans for Jewish organizations every year before the High Holy Days. One such review session took place Wed. afternoon at the Federation building.

Without giving any specific information on LAPD operations, Kalish said that additional police protection would take the forms of extra patrols, assignment of police personnel to Jewish-affiliated organizations, and collaboration with private security forces.

At Chabad of Agoura, Rabbi Moshe Bryski told The Journal that the Sheriff’s department had already contacted the institution, letting him know that it will be affording heightened security for the High Holy Days.

The security concerns affected not only synagogues, but Jewish schools and community centers as well. At Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, a recorded message told concerned community members: “Due to the current crisis, the school is now closed.”

North Valley JCC, the site of a white Supremicist attack two years ago where five people, including three children, were injured, was closed Tuesday and officials were not available for comment.

The University of Judaism, where many students live on campus, remained open, with students helping to address safety concerns. In particular, U.J. President Dr. Robert Wexler referred to “a significant number of Israeli students who’ve had specialized military training.” But like other Jewish community leaders, Wexler emphasized that no specific threats had been directed at the school. “Primarily we’re doing this for the emotional well-being of the students and the community,” he said.

The terrorist attacks will affect Jewish concerns both at home and abroad. Ian Lesser, an advisor on international security to the Clinton administration, believes the attacks on America would probably translate into greater sympathy in Washington for Israel’s tactics in targeting Palestinian terrorist leaders.

Lesser, now a senior analyst with the RAND Corp., until recently in Santa Monica and now in Washington D.C., also commented on American Jews’ perceptions of their own safety.

“There might be a concern by some whether to congregate in synagogues during the High Holy Days, and, of course, everyone is entitled to his or her personal choice.

“However, we should remember that when we alter our daily behavior, we give in to the aims of terrorism,” Lesser said. “Some caution may be required, but the illusion that we’re safe in America is now gone. No one is really safe anywhere.”

Tom Tugend and Sheldon Teitelbaum contributed to this report.