NEW YORK – Security for the High Holy Days at the Fort Tryon Jewish Center, a
small Conservative minyan in northern Manhattan’s Washington Heights
neighborhood, consists of a smiling ticket-taker at the front door of a high
school auditorium (the center’s own building is under construction).
is happy to let you in even if you don’t have a ticket – just make sure you pay
for your membership after the holidays! No police in sight, no wires dangle from
any ears, no pockets bulge in a distinct L-shape.
By contrast, don’t try
to get into Temple Emanu-El on the Upper East Side for Erev Rosh Hashana
services without a ticket. It may not be as stringent as getting through Ben-Gurion Airport’s interrogations, bag searches and patdowns, but the several
police officers who happened to be on the corners of Fifth Avenue and 65th
street aren’t there for decoration.
Neither are the pair of large,
be-suited, probably-not-Jewish men with white flowers on their lapels and wires
in their ears standing right in front of the entrance, or the four more behind
the roped stanchions just inside, or the dozen or so others hanging about in the
lobby. The number of these casual High Holy Day bystanders approximately doubled
for the next morning’s services, along with an additional NYPD van parked at
another nearby corner.
Emanu-El, one of the oldest Reform Jewish
congregations in the US (founded in 1845) and one of the biggest in New York,
boasts members such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and occasional guests
such as Israel’s counsel-general in New York Ido Aharoni.
synagogues around the US, things become intense this time of year as Jewish
organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the Secure Community Network
and the Orthodox Union prepare for the holidays and begin advertising “best
practices” for protecting a congregation. Even though some reports say threats
may be decreasing, the situation in Syria and the wider Middle East has kept
concerns, and security levels, heightened.
Between 2011 and 2012, there
was a 14 percent decline in anti-Semitic incidents in the United
Further, in September 2012, when Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur fell
in the middle of the month, the number of incidents of vandalism of Jewish
institutions was at one of the lowest levels for that year, with only three
reported cases; the highest number were in August and October, with nine and
ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman said earlier
this year that it was “encouraging” to see a “fairly consistent decline” in
He added, however, that “we must remain vigilant in responding
to [the incidents].”
Unfortunately for New York, the state with the
largest Jewish population in the US, the opposite was true: Incidents went up 27
percent from 195 in 2011 to 248 in 2012; it was the only state in the union to
see an increase.
At a police briefing with Jewish clergy members on
August 27, community leaders told officers that concerns over the situation in
the Middle East were raising worries at home. New York Police Commissioner Ray
Kelly promised heavily armored Hercules vehicles for “key buildings, hotels and
other structures,” but told reporters later that he had no intelligence that New
York would be under heightened threat if the US were to strike Syria.
almost every year, there’s another Middle East threat to be concerned
In July 2012, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced a
renewal of $3 million in grants from the US Department of Homeland Security for
houses of worship; 42 Jewish organizations and one Catholic church received up
to $75,000 each, in part due to rising tensions with Iran at the
For some, this level of security around the Jewish holidays is
“There’re always threats,” said Harry, an older man who did not
give his last name but identified himself as the head of Emanu-El’s security.
“I’ve been doing this job for 25 years. This place is covered 24-7. We know our
weak spots, and we fortify them.
We know physically what direction
threats can come from, and we can dismantle them. This is a routine
Harry would not confirm whether the amount of security around this
time of year increased. “That would be like Obama revealing details of all his
plans,” he joked.
“Then everyone else would be like, oh, okay, now we
know what to do.”
The New York Police Department’s House of Worship
patrol is another staple on which many synagogues depend for their
David K. Rosen, a former captain with the NYPD and head of the
HOW patrol for many years, said that one patrol car in each precinct is
designated to circle the block three times during one shift to check the area.
“They [the on-duty officers] are supposed to go in and introduce themselves to
the rabbi, and ask what they need,” Rosen said. “We set up the car and any
concrete barriers they need.
“I won’t say synagogues get more attention
than anyone else,” he paused, and echoed Harry’s words, “There are always
threats. Of every type that you can imagine. The NYPD goes out of its way to
protect and respond to appropriately to the level of threat.”
synagogue agreed to comment on its security procedures. The NYPD did not respond
to a request for comment.