FIRES STILL burn amid the rubble and debris of New York City’s World Trade Center on September 13, 2001, two days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks..
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The news stories are always the same – innocent victims carried out on stretchers; the anguished next of kin; the shocked community leaders and public officials vowing to increase security measures, so a terrorist event or mass shooting never happens again.
Increasingly, these stories are taking place at Jewish institutions here in the United States: synagogue shootings, arson, the defacing of Jewish gravestones.
We’ve seen this movie before.
The response of the collective Jewish community? Not everywhere, but for the most part, one big yawn, coupled with a passive attitude of “It can’t happen here.”
Who says it can’t? It’s happening now.
Most American Jews are aware that European Jews – specifically in France and Germany – are under siege.
But the stance that American Jews take is that it’s really their own fault for living in an antisemitic culture like France’s or among all those neo-Nazis in Germany. In other words, that’s an “over there” problem. It’s not something we have to think about over here. The one-word summary of this stance, sadly, is denial. And denial is not a security strategy.
Let’s go back to that imaginary attack. The response in those communities will be to have meetings with concerned school and synagogue families, law enforcement and security experts.
Serious measures will be taken. People will volunteer. They will receive training as security officers or first responders – whatever is necessary.
Schools and other Jewish institutions will revisit their visitor policies, to ensure that only those with a valid reason for being on the premises are let in.
Everyone in the building will know what to do in the event of an intruder or, worse, a cataclysmic event.
So if we’re going to have those meetings, make those decisions, and create those policies after a catastrophe, why wait? Why not have them now?
In short, why wait for the Jewish equivalent of 9/11 to do what we should do now, to prevent, or at least minimize the likelihood of, that kind of awful event?
Yes, we’ve seen a few security measures instituted in some synagogues, which all too often become forgotten, as complacency returns.
Some institutions – synagogues and schools – have simply made a nod in the direction of keeping people safe by making one small change. For example, some synagogues and temples now have a locked front door with a code. But half the time, people prop the door open in order to make it easier for other people to get in.
Is that real security, or is that just checking the security box? One action isn’t a plan; it’s cheap grace. It’s a means of saying, don’t blame us. At least we did something.
Some take a fatalistic view of terrorism. They say that if something happens, it’s God’s will, and you can’t stop God’s will.
I’m not here to enter into a dispute over hashkafa or Jewish philosophy.
I will ask, however, if that’s your position, don’t you still owe some duty of care to those of your congregants who, like those in the Resistance and the Warsaw Ghetto, don’t share your view?
I’m not suggesting that every terrorist act can be prevented. I am saying that a culture of security awareness needs to arise in the Jewish community. We must be eagles, not ostriches.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe felt this way. His position: every community has a responsibility to provide for the safety of its members. You can have faith – but you still have to act.
If it’s a matter of budget, remember that if, God forbid, there were a mass attack at a Jewish synagogue or school, what I call a Jewish 9/11, the money would immediately materialize to prevent a follow-up security event.
So if budgeting for security would be found after the fact, surely it can be scraped together today as well.
Let’s be clear. I’m not calling for vigilantes to take security into their own hands, perhaps inadvertently making their fellow congregants or students even less safe. I don’t have a Kahane-esque vision of “Every Jew a .22.”
I am saying that the Jewish people faces an existential crisis separate and apart from the mullahs of Tehran and the firebrands of Hamas or Hezbollah. We are under siege here at home, even if we don’t want to believe it. We are no longer safe.
The time to act isn’t just now. The time to act is yesterday, because tomorrow may be too late.
The writer is a New York Times best-selling author and ghostwriter based in Boston.
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