Our recent “Orange Alert” for terrorism provoked questions from members of the congregation (and the press) about our security procedures. In our Executive Director’s column, you will read about our approach to security and about the challenges we face in the future. I want to address a few matters of fact and a few matters of faith.
Here’s the fact: our synagogue is not a likely target of attack, neither by terrorists nor by anti-Semites (that may be a redundancy). However, we are aware of a level of possibility that has always existed, and that awareness creates anxiety and a desire to exercise more control over our situation.
Some of you remember a time when all of our officers (and a few others) had keys to the building, and people could come and go pretty much as they pleased. Our building won awards for its design – open and accessible, with panels of windows open to the street on three sides and a vacant courtyard in the center. Quietly – for aesthetic as well as security reasons – physical and visual access to the building has been reconfigured. We have attempted to maintain the beauty of our facility while enhancing the sense of sanctuary for those within.
Together with local law enforcement, we have developed surveillance that is unobtrusive and responsive. Our goal is to be both accessible and secure. As Iris explains in her column, we all have a role to play in enhancing the welcoming nature of our congregation and precautions to protect it.
In the end, however, security is as much a matter of attitude as it is of barriers and guards. We live in an information-rich world. Our attention is drawn immediately to sensational stories and the analysis of doom. The immediacy of the information leads us to assume not just our vulnerability, but our inevitable victimization. Just as a posture of denial is foolhardy, a presumption of defeat is unfounded.
It may be hard to strike the balance between a new consciousness of physical security and an old unconscious sense of spiritual security, but we must. Entering the synagogue for worship, study, social activity or cultural enrichment should be cause for joyous anticipation, not anxiety and foreboding. Rest assured that we are doing no less than is recommended to keep you secure – and in some cases more – and that we are constantly evaluating other steps in addition to or in place of current protocols.
Can we guarantee that no harm will ever befall us? Of course not. However, the likelihood is no greater now than it was in those days when “everybody had a key and anybody could just walk into the building.”
Finally, some of you want to know exactly what we are doing as security measures. I respond to you in the same way I respond to that question from the press: if we publicize our security measures, they will no longer be secure. I do assure you that your staff members hold your life and safety as dear as their own, and we are committed to maintaining an Agudas Achim that remains open to the many emotions of the heart – not just fear. And what is the best assurance of that promise?
We bring our children.