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Jewish organizations in the US face multiple types of threats, including from far-right nationalists and neo-Nazis, radical Islamists and far-left anti-Israel activists. Some synagogues have reported shooting incidents, like the synagogue in Evansville, Indiana, that reported a bullet hole in a Hebrew school classroom window in March.
Typical security arrangements around major synagogues in several US cities on a Saturday include blocking off streets, and uniformed off-duty police officers, paid by the synagogues for the morning, stand near a cruiser parked nearby or direct traffic on the main street.
In addition, volunteers with walkie-talkie earpieces stand at strategic points outside the synagogues keeping an eye on foot traffic. A few may have swept through the synagogue before services checking for suspicious objects.
According to jta.org, the volunteers are among the over 4,000 volunteers in New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania and California who have been trained by Community Security Service, or CSS, a nonprofit that runs on donations and foundation support, to keep synagogues, day schools and other Jewish institutions across the country safe.
The group is trying to be the gold standard for synagogue self-defense — a goal that became even more relevant following the recent massacre at a Texas church that left at least 26 people dead. “If the Jewish community is supposed to be an example for the rest of the world, then in the times we are living in, we should show other communities how to organize and how to help law enforcement help us,” said Jason Friedman, Community Security Service’s executive director.
CSS focuses on training community members to spot suspicious behavior and thus avert potential attacks. “Our primary focus is to get volunteers from synagogues training in situational awareness and basic security theory, so this would mean how to conduct security at their synagogue, where to stand, what to look for, how to communicate,” Friedman said.
Volunteers take a basic course that lasts a few evenings. Then they can take additional courses in more advanced topics. CSS also provides basic training in self-defense.
CSS was founded in 2007 by David Dabscheck, now CEO of the consulting agency GIANT Innovation, and Adam Sager, an Israeli army veteran who now heads the security company Canary. They recruited Friedman, a U.S. Navy officer who has served in Afghanistan, as their first volunteer, and later he became their first director.