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Jewish Groups Upgrade Security Measures Amid Threats

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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)

 

As Jewish groups across the country grapple with anti-Semitism and bomb threats, the local Jewish community is refusing to let fear paralyze it.

Instead, Columbus area organizations have been propelled into action -- training staff, upgrading security measures and learning more about how to respond in the event of future threats, all while daily activity bustles along.

There have been 133 bomb threats against Jewish organizations in the country since Jan. 1, according to ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit online news source. That includes one on Jan. 18 called into the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus.

In response, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has offered its help to about 160 Jewish Federation locations across the country in the past few weeks.

It is working with the Jewish Federation of Columbus to host ongoing security assessments, trainings and more at Jewish organizations throughout the city, said Bob Lane, the federation's vice president and the head of the Jewish Community Relations Committee.

"There's a lot of concern out there," said Bob Kolasky, acting deputy undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security.

On Wednesday, the JCC Association of North American sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, signed by 141 Jewish Community Center Movement leaders, urging Sessions to take immediate action to advance the investigation into threats to the centers.

"We are frustrated with the progress in resolving this situation," the letter states in part. "We insist that all relevant federal agencies, including your own, apply all the resources available to identify and bring the perpetrator or perpetrators, who are trying to instill anxiety and fear in communities across the country, to justice."

Related: JCC Evacuated After Bomb Threat, Others Threatened

A national poll of registered voters by Suffolk University and USA Today shows that about 62 percent of people think recent violence and bomb threats against Jewish organizations reflect a rise in anti-Semitism in the country. A little more than 23 percent disagree, while just over 14 percent are undecided.

"It's a concern of everyone, especially when you look at what has happened at churches and schools and military institutions," Lane said of recent incidents.

The federation committee is coordinating a security response for the Columbus Jewish community, which includes updating its goings-on, connecting organizations with security and law enforcement resources and hosting an active-shooter preparedness workshop for local faith organizations on March 22 at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus.

"We want people to be as prepared as possible if something were to happen," Lane said.

The federation is hosting exercises for staff of Jewish organizations in the city to simulate different incidents that could happen; improving and increasing security locks, cameras, and lights; and supervising as organizations hire law enforcement officers and guards if there's a need, Lane said.

"People are just frightened," said Rabbi Rick Kellner, at Congregation Beth Tikvah in Worthington.

"This is not the world we've become accustomed to," he said. "It is definitely disconcerting and it is very frustrating."

Despite the fear, people are generally going on with their lives, Kellner said. The synagogue has been regularly communicating with the Worthington police department, has hosted security demonstrations for staff members and is applying for a security grant through the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, in hopes of improving its security hardware, Kellner said.

Tifereth Israel, a synagogue on the Near East Side, is looking into more security enhancements for its building and pursuing the grant as well, said Steve Friedman, executive director. It's also trained its staff and is planning to offer more training presentations.

"(Training) just kind of reminds you of the need to be aware of the possibilities and do what you can to enact enhancements," Friedman said.

Homeland Security has worked with organizations of all faiths, but this effort is different because of the dedicated resources to threats to one religion, Kolasky said.

"Facilities are taking this seriously," he said. But they have to "balance (security) with the desire to have an open environment ... to continue to be a welcoming place and not scare people."

"Thinking about these things should help tamp down the sense of fear out there," Kolasky said. "The reason you should think about security is so ... we can all go back to doing the things important to us every day."

dking@dispatch.com

@DanaeKing

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Photo
(1) Security cameras at Congregation Beth Tikvah in Worthington monitor activity. Jewish organizations across the U.S. are taking more safety precautions in light of recent threats and vandalism. [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]
(2) Security cameras that keep an eye on the interior and exterior of Congregation Beth Tikvah are monitored from an office inside the building. [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]
 
March 9, 2017
 
 
 

 

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