Jason Friedman is of the mind that the “see something, say something” mantra in vogue these days needs to be a full-time philosophy.
Friedman, executive director of Community Security Services, a New York City-based nonprofit that works with Jewish agencies on security issues, spoke June 5 at Kaiserman JCC about the importance of situational awareness.
The main entrance of Kaiserman JCC, which has re-evaluated its security plans in the wake of recent bomb threats. | Andy Gotlieb
“We can’t push this all on police,” Friedman said during a presentation which discussed instances of terrorism worldwide. “Some of it has to be our responsibility.”
Acts of terrorism and anti-Semitism have been on rise in recent months, including locally.
Kaiserman JCC and the Perelman Jewish Day School’s Stern Center, which share a Wynnewood campus, were evacuated in February after a phoned-in bomb threat that proved unfounded. Other JCCs and Jewish organizations — both locally and across the nation — dealt with a string of bomb threats earlier this year. A suspect in Israel has since been arrested.
While neither incident has been tied to anti-Semitism, more than 100 tombstones at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia were toppled in February and five headstones were found damaged in May at Adath Jeshurun Cemetery in Frankford.
In addition, swastikas and hate literature have been found in the area, windows have been broken multiple times at Temple Menorah Keneseth Chai and graffiti was found on a mikvah under construction near Congregation Beth Solomon.
Friedman discussed the three groups that pose a threat to Jews — the radical left, right wing/neo-Nazis and radical Islamists — and touched upon what comprises good security.
That includes a communitywide response, the ability to inform, infrastructure improvements and having operations/boots on the ground.
“We have the opportunities to keep ourselves safe and our communities safe,” Friedman said.
Friedman noted that the best time to catch would-be terrorists is during their surveillance phase — because many of them do a poor job of it.
That might include someone sitting at a bus stop, but never getting on a bus, someone wearing inappropriate clothing (a heavy coat in warm weather, for example) or a car that just looks out of place.
“Situational awareness is a mindset, not a hard skill,” Friedman said.
Friedman touched upon terrorist symbols, both common and less recognizable. While everyone would recognize a swastika tattoo, the numbers 88 and 14 also have meaning. The eighth letter of the alphabet is “H” and 88 is code for “Heil Hitler,” while 14 refers to the number of words in the white-power slogan,“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
While the gathering addressed a serious topic, Friedman did lighten the mood with a suggestion he said would increase synagogue security 25 to 50 percent by keeping out people who don’t belong.
“Put a yenta at the front door,” he said. Such a guard would easily identify strangers: “I know you, I don’t know you.”
Also at the meeting, Kaiserman CEO Amy Krulik said the JCC is submitting a $75,000 security grant request to the federal Department of Homeland Security for physical plant improvements.
“We consider security a work in progress,” she said.
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