Challenges in Protecting Jewish Sites from Hate Crimes

March 8, 2023
As violent attacks against Jewish sites increase a number of security response solutions are evolving in cities around the U.S.

Too often we see, hear or read about antisemitic hate crimes in the media that target Jewish houses of worship, schools, community centers, cemeteries, stores, websites, restaurants, and individuals. The attacks happen in a number of ways - vandalism, graffiti, assaults, IEDs, shootings, stabbings, direct verbal threats/menacing, doxxing, phone and email threats designed to spread fear, and occasionally hostage-taking as witnessed in Colleyville, Texas on January 15, 2022. Add to the mix, sound bites and declarations from ignorant and perhaps hateful celebrities and politicians, many Jewish communities are sadly recognizing that despite the enormous contributions Jews made to science, technology, medicine, education, defense, and the democratic process in America, they are still being targeted more than any other ethnoreligious group in the United States.

The purpose behind listing the number of targets and methods of attack is to draw one’s attention to how pervasive the problem of antisemitism is in America. Not mentioned above is the widespread dissemination of lies about Jews that are unfortunately still being perpetrated in classrooms and board rooms such as “The Jews killed Jesus”, “Israel is an apartheid state”, and “The Jews control the banks, media, and Hollywood”.

According to an Anti-Defamation League report, 2021 saw over 2000 antisemitic attacks target Jews in all 50 states (2022 antisemitic incidents are still being evaluated) and unfortunately, there are no signs of a slowdown of attacks. Protecting Jewish sites is no small undertaking for any security professional.

The Threat Vectors Targeting Jewish Sites

For the physical security professional, when designing a security infrastructure or solution, we are concerned with 1) identifying the assets of a protected environment and their value to the organization's business operations and continuity, 2) assessing the natural or manmade threats that could potentially destroy or cause harm to the assets of the protected environment, 3) evaluating the security vulnerabilities of the site/organization, 4) creating a solution that answers the client’s security needs while ensuring that said solution is in line with the client’s budget and company culture.

When designing a perimeter security solution for example, the security professional is generally not concerned with a potential attacker’s motivation for conducting an attack, he or she is concerned with designing a solution for protecting the site from an attack, regardless of the motivation. Criminals shoplift or commit shooting attacks for all sorts of motivations; criminals attack Jewish sites for a multitude of motivations as well. In protecting Jewish sites, sometimes it pays to understand why and how attacks evolve in the first place, in order to recommend the most appropriate security solutions.

The perpetrators behind hate crimes and even terrorist attacks against Jews come from across the political, religious, racial, and socio-economic spectrum. Here are the main drivers of antisemitism:

  • Politically Radical Left - see Jews as “colonizers,” “capitalists,” and “oppressors” of ethnic minorities (despite Jews being an ethnic minority in America). The first occasion of Jews being targeted for being “successful and attaining financial power” happened in Egypt during Biblical times resulting in harsh edicts and enslavement. Marches, demonstrations, and harassment in front of Jewish sites is a common tactics along with online harassment.

        The dangers of demonstrations/protests - though constitutionally legal, can sometimes spiral out of control and result in severe damages due to mob                  mentality; as witnessed in May/June in 2020 when some Jewish businesses were looted and a temple vandalized in Los Angeles. Agitators on the Radical         Left will often align with groups who have other motivations for targeting Jewish sites.

  • ·Right Wing Extremists - For the polar opposite reasons why the Radical left targets  Jews, the Extreme Right targets Jewish sites and people because they believe that Jews are left-leaning socialists and are seeking to undermine American democracy, flood America with illegal immigrants, and trample on basic freedoms. The Extreme Right also believes that Jews control the media, banks, and Hollywood, yet still have designs to turn America, communist. Unfortunately, the methods of attack used by the Extreme Right are often quite violent in nature - The Tree of Life shooting attack in Pittsburgh in 2018, The Poway Attack in 2019. In both of these cases, the shooters were lone wolves who sympathized with the Extreme Right but were not part of any defined organization.  Alt-Right groups do promote high antisemitic fervor, though ironically, the Proud Boys were led by a person of color. Guns and pipe bombs are the tools of choice for many groups like the Three Percenters and the Boogaloo Boys.
  • Religious Extremists - Though historically going back millennia, Jewish people have been persecuted by Pagans, the Catholic Church, Protestants, Lutherans, and various Muslim-led Caliphates and countries, in modern times, fundamentalist Muslim groups are the prime organizations that publicly call for the violent targeting of Jewish sites and people. Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, al-Qaeda and ISIS are the main actors. Though Jews living in Israel are the chief target of these terrorist groups; they seek to inspire lone wolves to assume their cause in the United States. The hostage scenario at the synagogue in Colleyville, Texas is an example of an individual being radicalized to take action against a symbolic Jewish target.
  • Racist Hate Groups: “Black Hebrew Israelites,” Louis Farrakhan followers, Aryan Nation/Neo Nazis, these groups are united in that they use race as the measuring stick to determine someone’s value.  The “Black Hebrew Israelites aren’t followers of Jewish religious practices but are using a revisionist interpretation of history to launch antisemitic campaigns sometimes resulting in targeted attacks like the one at the Kosher market in New Jersey City, New Jersey in December 2019. Four people were killed including a police officer. The attackers had explosives as well; ready to use if they survived their shooting attack. Louis Farrakhan, while identifying as Muslim, uses his platform to spread diatribes and lies about Jewish people much in the way Hitler and Goebbels did in the 1930s and 40s. Unfortunately, no small number of African American celebrities with wide circles of influence, sometimes blindly support some of the antisemitic rhetoric put forth by the Black Hebrew Israelites and Louis Farrakhan.

        The mirror opposite of the Black radicalized groups is the white supremacist ones like Aryan Nation, Neo Nazis and the KKK. The black groups claim that         Jews are white oppressors, and the Aryan-oriented groups believe that Jews aren’t true white people at all. For the sake of clarity, Jews are a multi-racial         nation of people originating from the Middle East in the Land of Israel over 4,000 years ago.

  • ·Geo-Political Based Hate Groups: Though there has always been a Jewish population of varying degrees in Israel since the time of the Roman Conquest of Jerusalem, the fact that Jews returned to live en mass in their ancestral homeland in the 1800s, has led to scores and scores of attacks of all kinds. Without going into a huge history lesson about the Middle East, Jewish sites in America and beyond get targeted because they represent their Israelite heritage. Whenever the State of Israel gets provoked into some kind of regional military conflict, Jewish sites will get targeted just by means of association. 

Federal and State Non-Profit Security Grants

A resource to help many Jewish sites and other nonprofit organizations deter potential attacks is in the form of federal and state grants. Not long after 9/11, the Federal Emergency Management Agency developed a grant system where nonprofit organizations that are at risk from global terrorism can apply and seek funds to upgrade their physical security. This grant program has helped numerous  Jewish organizations and other nonprofit entities protect their property against potential acts of terrorism. Over the years, the grant has grown from a $75,000 award to $150,000-$200,000. Given the myriad of types of attacks that a temple can face, funds from the grant have been spent on bullet-resistant glass, metal detectors, access control, video surveillance, bollards, lighting, intrusion detection systems, gates, fences, training and more recently security patrols and communication devices.

Technology That Fits the Faith

A security professional may initially think that every Jewish house of worship should deploy such a laundry list of security measures; yet there are rules that govern how observant Jews honor the Sabbath (sundown Friday night - sundown Saturday night) and holidays. The Jewish practice of honoring the Sabbath and holidays requires one to abstain from working, driving, cooking, and using electronics like phones, televisions, and other communication devices, as well as a host of other prohibitions. The purpose of the day is to rest, avoid distractions, and connect with the Almighty and your family.

To avoid breaking the rules governing the Sabbath, access control systems are deactivated and either redundant mechanical push button locks are used or doors remain closed and either outsourced security officers or temple volunteers grant access to each congregant as they enter. Motion sensor lights are kept on or are controlled by timers set before the beginning of the Sabbath. Communication devices are not used except in case of an emergency.  Not all Jewish temples follow the Sabbath rules; some are more lenient in regard to driving and using electronic devices like phones and radios.

Empowering From Within

Faced with a rising wave of violent attacks against Jewish sites, a number of security and emergency response solutions evolved from within the greater Jewish community in America. The Secure Community Network is an intelligence service that collates, analyzes, and disseminates news of the latest antisemitic incidents in North America. SCN also offers security assessments and training. Hatzolah is a volunteer emergency medical response company with locations across America serving Jewish communities. Legion is an initiative to offer Krav Maga training to the Jewish community

In recent years, Magen Am, which means Nation’s Shield, evolved out of Los Angeles as a nonprofit security guard service company providing highly trained armed security officers to Jewish temples, schools, and community institutions. Magen Am is composed of military veterans from America and Israel as well as current and former law enforcement officers. Magen Am has also developed a model for training staff and volunteers in situational awareness, de-escalation techniques, Krav Maga, and firearms. 96 hours of training are required in multiple disciplines with constant re-qualification tests. The vision of Magen Am Founder, Rabbi Yossi Eilfort, is to empower the Jewish community from within; and Magen Am is offering some peace to the Los Angeles Jewish Community. Hopefully, more Jewish communities will be able to live their lives without fear of being targeted.

About the author: Greg Schneider, CPP  is President of Battle Tested Solutions LLC, a San Francisco Bay Area security consultancy focused on delivering security management strategies, intelligence planning, and tactical response training. Greg brings 25 years of experience in military, security, and law enforcement operations garnered from service in Israel and the United States. Mr. Schneider served in the Israel Defense Forces in a prestigious combat unit. Upon his release from military service, Greg was selected for specialized training and operations in executive protection, intelligence, and security management under the auspices of the Israeli Ministry of Defense. Mr. Schneider also served in a law enforcement capacity for the New York City Department of Investigations and has held numerous positions across the security landscape. Greg is very active with ASIS International and has served on various councils and committees specializing on Global Terrorism, Political Extremism, and International Crime.