US synagogues, summer camps prep for active shooter scenarios

With terrorism and lone gunman attacks on the rise, synagogues and Jewish summer camps are preparing for the worst.

By Tsivya Fox-Dobuler, World Israel News

Following reports of rising anti-Semitic incidents in the United States and the murderous attacks on The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the Chabad of Poway in San Diego, more communities are readying for the possibility of an “active shooter” scenario.

Experts say that preparation and training are important, not only in a practical sense but also to help alleviate fears.

“As synagogues appear to be often time targets, there should be a plan for guarding, identifying threats – escaping, defending, and coordinating with police authorities,” Avi Dobuler, a combat shooting instructor in Israel, told World Israel News.

“Regretfully, the world is little by little feeling the fruits of Arab terror where lawlessness and attacks on innocents abound,” he said.

Active shooter training often includes the mantra, “run, hide, fight.” Participants are advised to choose one of these three options and commit to it. A person should run for safety, hide in a secure place, or fight the gunman.

Rabbi Moshe Bleich, director of two Chabad college campus centers, told JNS that all Chabad centers are taking precautions against attacks. For example, he said that Chabad emissaries in Massachusetts have undergone a Civilian Response to Active Shooter Event (CRASE) course.

“People are more comfortable and at ease in what they feel is a safe space,” Rabbi Mendy Krinsky, head of the Chabad center in Needham, Massachusetts, is quoted as saying by JNS. “When an attack does occur, it’s a time to re-evaluate and continue to enhance security measures.”

Noting the importance of preparing individuals for their worse nightmare, Bob Kinder, CEO of Talon Solutions, a security consulting firm, told JNS, “Surveillance systems and hardening a synagogue or a JCC or another Jewish institution is absolutely critical just to keep out would-be assailants. But unless you have somebody who can rapidly react to that adversary, you’ll find it’s just too late.”

The Anti-Defamation League’s Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents found that in 2018, 1,879 attacks were committed against Jews and Jewish institutions in America.

U.S. Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism Elan Carr recently said that synagogues and Jewish institutions should consider having armed guards.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Carr said, “We live in a time of danger. Any synagogue, every JCC should have guards. God willing, may they never be needed, but they should be there.”

Synagogues and Jewish institutions are not alone with their concerns. JNS reported that Jewish summer camps and parents of campers express heightened concerns of an attack as well.

“Parents should be asking their children’s camp how they are addressing safety and security,” said security expert Michael Masters, national director and CEO of the Secure Community Network and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“What are the policies and procedures they have put in place? What physical security do they have at the camp? How are they training their staff? The counselors? The campers?”

After hearing security concerns from many camp directors, Democratic Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, who represents the heavily Jewish neighborhoods of Midwood and Borough Park in Brooklyn, has spearheaded legislation to allow sleep-away camps in New York to apply for a share of the $25 million from the “Securing Communities Against Hate Crimes Grant Program,” available to nonpublic schools, day-care centers and cultural museums for security.

“There is a pattern of hate – a pattern of anti-Semitism nationwide right now unfortunately – so why not be proactive?” Eichenstein told JNS.  “Are we really waiting for something to happen?”