America’s Jewish community confronts emerging threats

March 17, 2017
With a marked rise in anti-Semitism around the world and in the U.S., Jews embrace security culture

In a February op-ed in the Washington Post, columnist Mark Oppenheimer states that anti-Semitism is a complicated phenomenon, and it can’t be reduced to some high-profile incidents. His reasoning being that the recent spate of desecrations involving Jewish cemeteries, inflammatory anti-Semitic graffiti perpetrated at various religious facilities, synagogues and on college campuses, along with the terroristic phone calls and threats directed at Jewish Community and Daycare Centers are an amalgam of social media, rising populist sentiments, and anti-Israel backlash. 

"(And) Jews have to keep an eye out in all directions. On campuses, the perpetrators are often left-wing students whose hatred of Israel have led them into, or in some cases were always inextricable from, a hatred of Jews. Away from campuses, the anti-Semites are a motley mix of nativists, conspiracy theorists, twisted populists and the paranoid and delusional," Oppenheimer wrote.

While it may have been hibernating, anti-Semitism has never really been far from the surface during the last several decades in the United States. The latest FBI statistics state that Jews are the largest target for religiously motivated incidents in the U.S. with 57 percent of reported hate crimes; compared to 16 percent against Muslims.

The long history of anti-Semitism and Jewish oppression around the world has led to a new mindset among many American Jews, who are much more proactive when it comes to securing their local communities and advocating situational awareness. Promoting and teaching proactive security awareness to the masses was the driving force behind the launch of the Community Security Service organization in New York City a decade ago. Established as a 501c3, CSS has trained, supported, and educated the members of the American Jewish community to be participants in the security of their own houses of worship, events, and other gatherings. 

“The CSS is a non-political organization.  Our concern is that the American Jewish community is being left out of the security equation.  Every member of the community has the right and the responsibility to participate in the communities’ overall security. Security awareness in the Jewish community and America as a whole needs to be drastically improved. Leadership at all levels and members of the community need to be included in security planning whenever possible,” says David Bacall, Director of West Coast Operations of CSS. “A community member’s inherent knowledge of their own environment is a powerful asset.  When paired with some security training, this knowledge is an effective way to bolster security, improve communications with law enforcement, and build awareness.  CSS operates from coast to coast and is in the midst of a national expansion.  Our main goal is to combat fear by educating and empowering members of the community to proactively protect their Jewish communities.” 

Unfortunately, that is not the case in countries like France, Belgium, and Germany where blatant acts of anti-Semitism and actual violence against the Jewish community have polarized the populations and enforced anti-Semitic stereotypes. Bacall insists that advances in electronic and mobile communication technology are factors driving this surging Jewish vendetta.

“There is an increase in anti-Semitic rhetoric and anti-Semitic bias on social media that is not defined by geography.  What we are paying close attention to is the fact that people are feeling a level of comfort saying things online that would never have been uttered in public discourse before,” stresses Bacall. “Our concern is for when people feel comfortable doing things in the real world that is as equally repugnant.  Thankfully, there are still many factors that differentiate the United States from Europe. These differences make us a target for altogether separate reasons.”

While the blanket of anti-Semitism covering Western and Eastern Europe has remained consistent, albeit muted in many cases, over the last several decades, it has been more of a cyclical occurrence in America according to Bacall. He notes that factors like the economy and social turmoil often fuel anti-Semitic feelings in this country – whether it was aimed at the Irish, Italians, African-Americans or Jews.

“Our recently published CSS Research report analyzed the last five decades of attacks on the Jewish community in America.  We found that in times of social and economic change anti-Semitic violence increased.  CSS knows that there is a persistent threat to the Jewish community that is unlike any other {minority group},” he says. “We want to ensure that the American Jewish community continues to be prosperous, safe, and free to practice its faith as freely as ever. In order to do this, the community must accept that there ARE threats and proactively mitigate them.  Volunteer security initiatives are critical since they ensure that trained volunteers are in place at critical times.  Moreover, increased situational awareness and security training for all members of the community should be implemented just as fire drills have become normal, so should security training.”

To that end, Bacall insists that members of the Jewish community should have a basic understanding of security and that members of institutions should support security initiatives at their institutions.  He continues that if there are security committees associated with Jewish facilities and organizations, Jewish citizens should join them and make sure that security is always a part of the process. 

Bacall goes on to say that if there are no security committees in place, then they should be established.  “Security cannot only be the responsibility of the paid staff or security guard.”

That is the impetus for the Community Security Service driving its philosophy and solutions across the nation to America’s Jewish community.

“Aside from the obvious, when Jewish communities have CSS, security awareness becomes a part of that community.  Volunteers interact with their friends and family and demonstrate what a regular person can contribute.  Those friends and family have a greater appreciation of the role they can play in security.  They tend to be more conscious of the world around them,” Bacall relates. “We have heard many stories from CSS community members about how they feel empowered to talk to CSS volunteers or security guards about something they saw on the way to their institution; doors propped open, or some other security concern that would have been left to someone else before CSS.“ 

As the threat of institutional vandalism and physical assaults against members of America’s Jewish community has increased over the last year, CSS has launched a new mobile app they are calling the Jewish Security Application (JSA). This unique security app provides Jewish citizens the ability to report suspicious activity and document anti-Semitic incidents quickly and accurately from their smartphones. JSA also provides a panic button for alerting local authorities to immediate threats.  

“The American Jewish community needs to fundamentally change the way we approach security. Not everyone has it in them to be proactive, but JSA emboldens every member of a community to be more vigilant, and more importantly, to be able to quickly and easily report suspicious activity,” said Jason Friedman, Executive Director of the CSS in a recent press release. “CSS works on training our members to see events before they happen, as experience suggests that surveillance generally precedes an attack.  JSA is making it easier for the community to record and report suspicious activity so we all can be part of keeping our community safe, to see threats before they materialize,”

Bacall hopes that this new Jewish security mobile app will not only embolden his flock but also strengthen links with local law enforcement and federal agencies when it comes to tracking and solving hate crimes and anti-Semitic incidents.

“The Jewish Security Application is an expansion of CSS’s proven method and mission. By leveraging technology we hope to increase our most valuable asset - our network of people.  The JSA provides improved communications and information sharing capabilities which will greatly improve our volunteers’ ability to protect Jewish communities.  We will then be able to aggregate what people reported and provide regular analyses to local and federal authorities along with other Jewish organizations focused on keeping our people safe,” says Bacall.

The JSA is available free of charge for both Android and iOS phones.  CSS will soon begin to distribute access to the JSA through its affiliated synagogues, schools, and community centers. 

In the final analysis, Bacall and other CSS executive team members recognize that technology is not a panacea. Security awareness and diligence across the Jewish community is its best weapon.

“We focus on developing as much human security measures as possible.  We have seen facilities rely too much on technology only to see it negated by community members who do not have enough security awareness. If communities have the means and the awareness then technology that improves access control and perimeter awareness would be critical.  The Charlie Hebdo massacre was a classic example of a facility that relied on all the latest technologies and was infiltrated because they had no humans running the show,” concludes Bacall.

About the Author: Steve Lasky is a 30-year veteran of the security industry and is the Editorial Director for SouthComm Security Media and the editor-in-chief of Security Technology Executive magazine. You can reach him at

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