On the Shabbat when the murders took place in the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh, the Torah portion was Vayera, from Genesis, recounting how Abraham welcomed perfect strangers into his tent. As Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), said in his initial statement after the shootings, it was so painful and ironic that we live in a time when we have to temper our welcome of strangers as we protect our communities from violence and hate. For a while now, the CBHT Security Committee and the Board of Trustees have been considering how to balance this notion of being a welcoming place while being a safe place. Since the attack, a new Safety Action Plan was adopted by the Security Committee and the Executive Committee of the Board at an emergency joint meeting. It details what we have routinely been doing, what additional measures have been immediately implemented, and what will happen to improve security while maintaining the essence of our warm, welcoming temple.
Some of us joined over 1,300 participants in a webinar sponsored by the URJ to address synagogue security after Pittsburgh. On the call, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that 2017 was the second highest year on record for anti-Semitic acts, with 1,986 reported. This is up from 941 in 2015. But, while harassment (emails, phone calls and faxes) and vandalism are on the rise, assaults remained very low, prior to the Pittsburgh event. And, while everyone is shaken by what happened, the ADL and the FBI say that there is no other credible threat; the landscape hasn’t changed.
But what has changed for us, and for many synagogues across the country, is our renewed urgency to create a culture of security at our temples. While our current and planned security measures were just as relevant before the incident as after it, this tragedy is a wake-up call and we are actively heeding that call. Even if we never have to deal with an anti-Semitic threat, we need to be better prepared for any kind of intruder.
Most important to improving our safety, according to local and national experts, is adopting a culture that enforces the notion that security is everyone’s job. We are all responsible for being aware of our surroundings, reporting what we see in and around the building, and using common sense measures like not propping doors open and not allowing people we can’t identify into our building. My hope is that rising to this challenge together will serve to further strengthen us as a community.
While we implement this plan and other actions we may need to consider, we will continue our emphasis on audacious hospitality. We will continue to show up with open hearts and be the warm and welcoming community we all love.
As always, I hope you’ll let me know your thoughts about our security and how we can improve.
Karen Hyman, President,