Addressing rumors of a threat to New York City, the JCRC of New York offers the following Security Alert guidance sheet complete with precautionary measures to be taken at times of high alert status.
Last night a burning car was rammed into a synagogue door in southwest France. Damage to the synagogue in a Toulouse neighborhood was limited to a blackened door, and there were no injuries even though a rabbi was giving a course inside. Authorities assume that this attack was linked to ongoing protests against the Israeli incursion in Gaza and local law enforcement urge that we continue to maintain a heightened level of vigilance.
Two internet-based rumors are circulating in the Jewish community. The first, which is plausible, notes that some anti-war protesters are urging people to disrupt synagogue services. The second deals with an alleged threat to New York City on Wednesday.
Both to enhance security and to counter possible disruptors we urge all synagogues, schools and Jewish organizations to take the following steps:
1) Contact your local police precinct immediately. Let them know when you will have services, classes or events. As a rule, the best contact is the precinct community affairs officer. If you don’t know the phone number of your precinct, a list of New York City Precincts (with the community affairs officers) is found here. NYC institutions needing further assistance contact Det. Adam Berish at (646) 610-7878. Long Island residents can find a map of the precincts and links to phone numbers (Nassau County here and Suffolk here). Those living in incorporated towns in Nassau should call their local police departments. If you need further assistance call the JCRC of Long Island at (516) 677-1866. In Westchester call your local police department. If you need further assistance call the Westchester Jewish Conference at (914) 328-7001.
2) Review your building access policies. You must control access to your building. Once people wishing to disrupt (or to commit worse acts) enter your premises, there is relatively little that you can do to stop them. Best practice is to stop them before they even enter. See JCRC’s Sample Building Access Policies and Procedures for suggestions on how to balance the sometimes conflicting goals of making your building both welcoming and secure.
Review the entire document to help to determine your policies. Remember: you are legally permitted to deny anyone access to your building.
Train your staff and your greeters. They should know your policies and how to implement them before emergencies occur.
Ensure that only authorized persons enter your premises. Restrict the number of open entrances to your building. Only congregants, visitors, guests, vendors, service people, or others who are authorized should be able to enter. There are many ways to authorize individuals:
Weekdays. Best practices dictate that authorization best occurs outside your premises (via intercoms/cctv) or in your outer lobby. People with ID cards issued by your institutions or who are known to your staff should be considered authorized, as are visitors with appointments and known service and delivery personnel. Determine your policy on admitting those not included in the categories above. Asking for Photo ID and keeping a log is a good start.
Consult with a competent halachic authority before any problems occur to determine what might be permitted. Don’t wait for the emergency to happen and the necessity for action. For example, when asked about how to deal with disruptions on Shabbat, Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union responded, “Since these disruptions have the potential of turning violent, synagogues should contact their local police departments, even on the Sabbath.”
Sabbath and holidays. Many synagogues have metal detectors; search bags and have a panic button and/or cell phone by the front door in case of a problem. Have staff, security guards or greeters at the door. They should know the “regulars” and admit them. Ask the simchah sponsors (e.g., bar/bat mitzvah/aufruf families) to supply lists of attendees and have the greeters check the list. Those who are not “regulars” or are not on the simchah list should be challenged further. You may ask people to empty their pockets. Some synagogues use a “challenge phrase”, asking “non-regulars” to finish a certain, common phrase from the siddur.
3) Dealing with disruptions. Disturbing a religious service is a crime and the police should be contacted immediately. Make plans to do so with specific individuals delegated to make the police report.
The goal of disrupters is to compromise our feelings of security, interrupt our ongoing activities and to publicize their supposed victory. Once the potential disrupters are inside your premises there is little that you can do stop it until the police come to arrest the disrupters. However, here are two recommendations for actions until the police arrive:
Minimize confrontations. It’s likely that the disrupters would arrive with a video camera (which is another reason to search people) with plans to make you and your institution unwilling stars of “YouTube” and other internet sites. Shouting matches and fights make for great theater (giving the disrupters a victory) and could lead in some of your members getting arrested for assault. While the provocation is great it’s best to isolate the disrupters and to have the police remove them.
Act decisively. Pre-designate a number of people to try to isolate the disrupters and have a trusted leader (e.g., rabbi) urge people to maintain the proper decorum for the prayer service. Either continue the service, or if the disrupters make it impossible, ask the congregation to recite Psalms or other private prayers. Denying the disrupters a confrontation deprives them of achieving their goals.
Remember. Most of these recommendations require pre-planning. Don’t wait for Shabbat to try to implement them.
4) Harden your target. Nonprofit organizations can receive a grant of up to $75,000 from the US Department of Homeland Security FY2009 Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) to the states. The New York State application is ready and available online. Organizational applications must be submitted (through the online application system) by Friday, February, 20 2009. For links to the application and the latest information on our website: http://www.jcrcny.org/securitygrants.
5) Rumor control. Many people have received information about an alleged threat to NYC on Wednesday. For your information, the NYPD has investigated this alleged threat thoroughly. It seems that “everyone” knows the person who received the information. However, detectives have questioned a number of individuals who were identified by others as the person who supposedly received the threat. Upon questioning, every one of those people admits to learning of the threat from a “friend of a friend.” Anyone knowing someone who directly received such information should dial 1-888-NYC-SAFE immediately.
We (and others) reported the alleged threat to the authorities on Friday. They confirm that there is no known, credible threat regarding New York or the Jewish community. (We did, however, note the potential of a threat in our Security Advisory last week: “Israel’s Counterterrorism Operations against Hamas triggered demonstrations overseas and here at home. We know that similar circumstances in the past led New York residents to engage in violence here in New York. The murder of Ari Halberstam on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994 was one such horrible incident. Others include anti-Semitic assaults against Jews in the subways and anti-Semitic graffiti” and urged heightened vigilance. The attempted arson in Chicago and the attempted car bombing in Toulouse should be added to this list.)
For your information, the alleged threat has been added to the “Urban Legends” site, SNOPES. Get more background on this common type of rumor here.