On this trip and many others that followed, I shed many tears as I visited the numerous synagogues, Jewish museums and areas of historical importance which commemorated the horrors and evil that were perpetrated upon the Jewish people in so many parts of the continent during the Holocaust.
That initial trip to Europe and each of my many subsequent trips — first with friends, then my wife, and then with my wife and six children — mostly were wonderful experiences. Each was full of fun, learning, excitement and entertainment. Each journey brought new sights, senses, ideas and friends into my world.
Yet it was inevitable that each trip had its dark, gloomy and mournful parts, as I would walk around absorbing the unfathomable decimation of European Jewry. I was also disconcerted by the police or private security presence at so many of the synagogues I visited. I was sad, confounded and upset to see that such a presence was needed on a continent on which 6 million Jews were brutally slaughtered.
How is it possible, I wondered, that in cities and countries where the land is so stained with Jewish blood after a targeted, systematic attempted annihilation of the Jewish people that European synagogues would need such protection? Was there no guilt or shame? Were there no lessons learned?
I took comfort, naively it would appear, that in my own country, there was no need for such security measures. I grew up in New York City, and other than the occasional rough anti-Semitic comment here or there, I was fortunate to have personally experienced virtually no anti-Semitism. The synagogues I attended had little to no visible security protocols in place. The large and extremely serious security challenges and danger we face today did not exist.
Of course we are not alone in experiencing these challenges and danger. In the last number of years, churches, mosques and synagogues around the world — including in our great country — have been attacked. Men, women and children have been murdered in cold blood while reciting their holy prayers.
An analysis of why this is happening would take volumes. My purpose in writing is instead to express deep appreciation. Thank you to the men and women of our law enforcement, who each day put their lives at risk to protect us in our homes, our schools, our communities and, as has been the case in Europe for many years, our synagogues. And of course, we must all express our deep gratitude to our friends and neighbors who volunteer for the Community Security Service and Secure Community Network, organizations that train and watch over us in our synagogues so that we can pray safely and connect with God.
Last Shabbat when I arrived at my synagogue, I greeted our CSS volunteers and one of them pointed out that in the wake of the horrific attack in Jersey City days earlier, they were now wearing bulletproof vests.
Let that sink in a moment. These volunteers not only watch over us, but the risk to them has grown so much that they must now wear bulletproof vests to protect themselves while they protect us.
We can spend countless hours speaking about hate and anti-Semitism, and we should. We must expose this pernicious hatred and fight it with all our might. But as important, we should spend time thanking our brave and wonderful law enforcement and the volunteers from our own communities who have taken this holy task upon themselves to protect us, our loved ones and our synagogues from harm and danger. Now more than ever they deserve our gratitude, respect and prayers for their safety and well-being.
To my friends and neighbors who volunteer for CSS, and to all CSS and SCN volunteers across the country, may God keep you and your families safe and healthy, and may God bless you for your efforts. Thank you for your service. You are all heroes! The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.