Securing Faith in the Face of Threats: U.S. Synagogues Prepare for the High Holidays Amid Security Concerns
Ensuring a Safe Space for Worship
As the Jewish High Holidays approach, synagogues across the United States are fortifying their security measures in anticipation of potential threats. This preparation came in response to a recent wave of nearly 50 hoax bomb threats targeting synagogues, leading to evacuations from California to Florida. Despite the increased concern, congregations remain determined not to let this significantly alter the way they worship. For instance, Rabbi Mara Nathan of Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, Texas, mentioned that her congregation already has extensive security measures in place.
The Rise of Antisemitism
The false bomb threats are a stark reminder of the rise in antisemitism in recent years. Following violent antisemitic incidents like the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, many synagogues have adopted a readiness posture. Notably, Evan Bernstein, CEO of the Community Security Service, warns of the risk of desensitization that could reduce responsiveness to genuine threats, given the frequency of false alarms.
Security Briefing on Capitol Hill
During a briefing on Capitol Hill, the issue of false bomb threats was brought to the fore. These threats, termed ‘swatting incidents’, are designed to cause disruption, fear, and confusion. Michael Masters, CEO of the Secure Community Network (SCN), predicts that these incidents are likely to persist due to the minimal effort required to cause significant disruption.
The SCN, which oversees security for Jewish institutions nationwide, informed Congress members that bomb threats have become a favored tool for extremists. According to Kerry Sleeper, a senior advisor to the SCN, extremists often target live-streamed services to witness the disruption caused by the police. Sleeper suggests that one potential long-term goal of these extremists may be to inhibit Jewish expression.
Preparing for the High Holidays
Masters advises synagogues to revisit their security procedures ahead of the High Holidays, a period when attendance is at its peak. He recommends liaising with local police departments, having an organized evacuation plan, and ensuring a point of contact at the synagogue for a coordinated response with the police.
During the briefing, there was also a discussion about a proposed increase in federal grants to protect synagogues and other religious institutions. The program, which has expanded significantly due to the rise in threats against Jewish and other institutions, may see an increase in funding from $250 million to $360 million. Eric Fingerhut, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, emphasized the importance of these resources for the physical security of faith-based gathering places.
Resilience Amid Rising Security Concerns
Synagogues across the country are increasing their preparedness in response to the recent bomb threats as they prepare for the High Holidays. Despite the heightened security concerns, congregations maintain their resolve to continue their worship practices, demonstrating their resilience in the face of challenges.
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