WASHINGTON – Following Saturday’s attack on Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center hosted several senior administration officials on Tuesday to address the rise of antisemitism in the US and the ways to protect Jewish institutions. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas; FBI Director Chris Wray and Attorney-General Merrick Garland were among those who participated in the call.
“We convened this Zoom meeting for them to speak to rabbis and school presidents and other synagogue leaders, not only in the Orthodox community,” said Nathan J. Diament, executive director for the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center. He said that over 1,500 Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative representatives participated in the call.
“The reason why we convened this was twofold,” said Diament. “One, we thought it was important for the synagogue community nationally to hear from the most senior officials messages of reassurance and solidarity. All those officials very strongly directly denounced this antisemitic attack; called it an antisemitic attack; called it an act of terror; and talked about their commitments to combat antisemitism.
“Garland and Mayorkas spoke about it in personal terms – Attorney-General Garland talked about how when he goes to his synagogue, there’s a police car parked outside, and it’s not just because he’s the attorney-general attending synagogue, but because that’s the situation that we’re in, and Mayorkas also spoke about it from a posture of a very proud member of the community.
“What was important about this was [to] have the highest-level officials in the US government very clearly saying to the community leadership that they’re focused on this. The whole machinery of their federal agencies is working on this. I think people should be reassured – to have the attorney-general of the United States or the secretary of Homeland Security talk in very personal terms about how they are members of the Jewish community in the United States, how they feel the same threat that we all are feeling... it is reassuring to hear these top government officials speak in those terms and basically say, ‘we get it and we’re with you.’”
Diament said that there was “a discussion about resources,” including the need to increase the nonprofit security grants program, as well as online resources that DHS has to help educate synagogues about security procedures. “Secretary Mayorkas reiterated what he said, publicly, which is that they agree with advocating [efforts] to increase the funding to $360 million,” said Diament.
“They said that we’re obviously in an environment in which antisemitism has increased. They also said that the investigation into this attack in Texas is ongoing, and they are still investigating who else is out there that might have been connected to this, who else is out there that might be trying to recruit or motivate other people to do something similar.”
He said that Wray called on participants – most of whom were synagogue leaders – to establish “a relationship or an open line of communication” with their local FBI field office. “It is a very important relationship to have in addition to the local police,” Diament said.