Jews must be responsible for their own safety and security - opinion

By changing their mindset to one of preparedness, Jewish communities and congregations ensure that they will continue to be there for future generations.

 DEMONSTRATORS RALLY in solidarity with Israel and against antisemitism, in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, in May. (photo credit: Christian Mang/Reuters)
DEMONSTRATORS RALLY in solidarity with Israel and against antisemitism, in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, in May.
(photo credit: Christian Mang/Reuters)

Thankfully, the January 15 hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, ended as it should have: With terrorist Malik Faisal Akram killed and all hostages, including Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, freed unharmed.

Akram was demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, colloquially known as “Lady Al Qaeda,” a Pakistani neuroscientist who is currently serving an 86-year sentence for the attempted murder of FBI and US Army personnel.

Siddiqui is a notorious antisemite, who declared that she did not want anyone with a “Zionist or Israeli background,” on her jury. Following her conviction, she stated that “this is a verdict coming from Israel and not from America. That’s where the anger belongs.”

Despite the FBI’s initial reluctance to clearly describe the Congregation Beth Israel hostage situation as a deliberate attack on Jews, Akram’s evil intent was obvious to Jews all over the world. Akram chose to attack Congregation Beth Israel, on Shabbat, because he knew that he would encounter Jews.

Despite many recent efforts by American Jews to distance themselves from Israel, Akram did not make such a distinction. He – like violent extremists the world over – views Jews as a collective scourge that must be eliminated. In the minds of terrorists like Akram and Siddiqi, Jews are Jews regardless of their political beliefs or where they live.

 AAFIA SIDDIQUI is a notorious antisemite, who declared that she did not want anyone with a ‘Zionist or Israeli background’ on her jury.  (credit: FBI/REUTERS) AAFIA SIDDIQUI is a notorious antisemite, who declared that she did not want anyone with a ‘Zionist or Israeli background’ on her jury. (credit: FBI/REUTERS)

Although thankfully ending without the murder of innocent Jews, Saturday’s events in Colleyville were a grim reminder of the increased antisemitic events that have taken place over the last few years here in America and abroad. According to the Anti-Defamation League’s “Audit of Antisemitic Incidents,” the most recent data from 2020 details were that there were “2,024 reported antisemitic incidents throughout the country.” Moreover, this was the “third-highest year on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.”

From Pittsburgh to Poway, the last few years have involved horrific acts of violence against the American Jewish community. And, of course, the ADL’s report does not include the terrible attacks against Israeli Jews who, this past May 2021, endured nearly two weeks of incessant rocket fire from the radical terrorist group Hamas.

The ADL’s data demonstrate that Jews are a hated people. This is a fact that, thankfully, has been allowed to be momentarily forgotten in such philosemitic societies such as the modern-day United States. But antisemitism is a pernicious and insidious force that rears its ugly head in every generation. No amount of education and advocacy will ever eliminate antisemitism, such hatred is too entrenched. Therefore, Saturday’s events, and the ADL’s data, reinforce the mindset that I have long believed: Jews must be responsible for their own safety and security.

Jewish places of worship and community must make themselves hard targets. This means that they should have both armed security, as well as encourage those congregation members with the appropriate training and credentials to be a part of that security apparatus. This may include congregation members with the appropriate state-issued licenses to conceal carry firearms during services or to participate in emergency preparedness drills with the security team.

Communication and planning are paramount to ensure that all members of the congregation or community understand what to do in an emergency. This takes more than lip service. It requires rehearsals. Most of all, there must be a mindset change and a realization that law enforcement response time will likely be slow. The Jewish community or congregation must assume that no one will come to rescue them, and must be prepared to protect themselves at all costs.

Such a mindset change does not eliminate the ability for the Jewish congregation or community to be welcoming and loving to the outside world. So much of what makes Judaism special – the rich community ties, the tradition, and the hope to improve the world – can still exist and perhaps increase more, through a congregation or community that knows how to protect itself.

Through increased training and readiness, Jewish communities and congregations ensure that they will be able to react quickly and effectively if an emergency arises. By changing their mindset to one of preparedness, Jewish communities and congregations ensure that they will continue to be there for future generations and not become the next Poway, Pittsburgh, or Colleyville.

The writer is a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal for Meritorious Service. He is a publishing adjunct at The Miryam Institute.