As you surely know by now, on Saturday morning four people including the rabbi were taken hostage at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas (a suburb of Dallas and Fort Worth). The terrorist was demanding the release of an Al Qaeda prisoner being held in a federal prison in Fort Worth. After eleven hours, the hostages were freed by an FBI SWAT team and the terrorist was killed.
Even while this incident was still going on, the Montgomery County Police Department was in touch with Jewish leaders and increased their monitoring of Jewish institutions in the county. Similar actions were taken all over the country. The Jewish Federations of North America have set up the Secure Community Network (SCN) which works with the FBI, state and local police departments, and local Jewish institutions to keep our community safe and secure. Our local SCN director is in constant contact with us to keep us apprised of any potential threats and to work with us to improve our security.
It’s unfortunate that security has to be such a concern for us but that is the reality with which we live. The silver lining in this cloud is that, unlike the situation in which our ancestors lived in many countries, the government is on our side and working to protect us. A number of years ago we got a very significant grant from FEMA which allowed us to install lots of different security updates. Our security cameras are now tied directly into the Montgomery County Police so they can monitor our synagogue building in real time. Another very large grant is being implemented right now and will allow us to, among other things, make our doors and vulnerable windows bulletproof and install additional cameras, monitors, and buzzers so that access to our building can be better controlled. While the FEMA grants can only be used for things like cameras, monitors, buzzers, hardened doors and windows and so on, we also have a local government grant that can be used to hire off-duty police for some services and events.
While our services and programs continue on Zoom due to the rise in COVID cases, we have an opportunity to evaluate our security protocols once we return to holding activities in our building.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, the rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel whose preparation and cool-headedness is credited with saving his life and the lives of the other hostages, gave a sermon the previous Shabbat which directly addressed the concerns of American Jews living in a time of increased antisemitism and racial and ethnic divisiveness:
“What can we do?” he asked. “The answer is — quite a lot! . . . In the midst of chaos and uncertainty, God asked the Israelites to face their fears and do something. . . . We are living in the midst of a different kind of chaos and uncertainty and it’s our turn to do something. . . . All we need to do is act.”
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at email@example.com or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian