Seating arrangements and other requirements may be new at High Holiday services this year, especially compared to 2019, but security will look similar to what it’s been at many Greater Phoenix congregations during previous High Holidays. But that doesn’t mean security hasn’t been ramped up at some congregations in response to an uptick in antisemitic incidents in 2021.
Additionally, an enhanced presence could be composed partially of trained congregation volunteers.
“Many Jewish communities outside of the United States have long employed a trained volunteer security model when it comes to securing their institutions that has proven to save lives,” said Evan Bernstein, CEO of The Community Security Service, an organization founded in 2007 to focus on providing training to build on-the-ground, volunteer-led physical security teams and safety programs.
Only recently, Bernstein told Jewish News, has the American Jewish community started to employ this model at the urging of his organization. “In order to stem our vulnerability, all denominations must place a significant emphasis on ensuring that their members are trained in basic security.” Some congregations in the Phoenix area incorporate volunteers from among their members into their security plan.
Congregation Beth Tefillah held socially distanced in-person High Holiday services last year, so this year won’t seem that different to its members compared to 2020. Because of the latest phase of the pandemic, Beth Tefillah will hold similarly configured services again this year.
Rabbi Pinchas Allouche, the congregation’s spiritual leader, said security concerns, too, are always top of mind.
“We have an excellent security committee that has expanded over the past year and monitors all of the warnings from the FBI and other security concerns that are relayed to us,” he said.
Beth Tefillah will continue to have a robust security presence during all High Holiday services, he said. The congregation has asked its members to maintain “heightened awareness” toward any potential risk and to report any security concern promptly to security personnel, he added.
Debbie Blyn, the outgoing executive director of Temple Chai, said, “We will have a very strong security presence at services this year — one members of our community have come to expect and one they’re comfortable with and are used to seeing.”
Temple Chai’s “priorities and policies around security have always been very clear,” she emphasized. “It’s always been people over property and it’s all about protecting people.”
Temple Chai did not hold in-person High Holiday services last year because of the pandemic. This year in-person services will be held, but with limited capacity.
“We are fortunate to have an active security team that will coordinate with other local synagogues as well as the police on any security issues that arise during and leading up to High Holidays,” said Alicia Moskowitz, executive director for Beth El Congregation, which did not hold in-person services during the High Holidays last year. Beth El, too, will be in person in a limited fashion.
“A number of our staff and security team volunteers,” Moskowitz said, “are connected with the Security Community Network (a nonprofit organization that’s the official homeland security and safety initiative of the organized Jewish community in North America), Jewish Advisory Board of the Phoenix Police Department, Anti-Defamation League and other organizations that help to keep us informed of potential threats and antisemitic activity in our area and in the wider world.”
Beth El also has joined The CSS network. “Security is everyone’s responsibility,” Bernstein said. “Unfortunately, this past year, we have witnessed antisemitism across the country rear its ugly head in ways that have left Jewish communities feeling quite vulnerable. Awareness is key to our protection and we encourage all who plan on attending (High Holiday) services to be mindful of anything that may seem out of place and immediately report it to the institution’s security director and law enforcement in emergency situations.”
While police and private security provide key elements that help with safety, Bernstein said, “a trained security volunteer who is serving his or her own community is in a unique position to recognize out-of-place objects or scenarios that private security and local law enforcement may not. The concept of an individual protecting their own synagogue or event, while their loved ones and friends are inside, is a highly impactful position. Our safety outcomes increase tremendously when we have more eyes and ears on the ground.”
Bernstein pointed out that there has been a rise in antisemitic incidents across Arizona in the last year as well, “with some Jewish communities in the state during the Israel-Hamas conflict this year suffering from acts of hate. Vulnerability is high because some feel that our insecurity is inevitable. In order for us to take more ownership of this problem, which is at the core of what CSS is trying to do, we must educate and train members to understand the basic elements of security.”
“We will have in-person services this year so we are focusing part of our security on check-in and ticketing as we welcome people into the building,” Moskowitz said. She added that “masks will make this more difficult for those who are not regulars. We are not allowing anyone without a prior reservation to walk in.”
“We need to empower our fellow family members, neighbors and colleagues to understand that security is everyone’s responsibility,” Bernstein said. “Empowering everyone to protect their community is how we can significantly increase our safety outcomes.” JN