In the aftermath of the fatal shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, local shuls and agencies reassess threats to safety
By STEVEN ROSENBAUM
The recent shootings at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and the thwarted attempt to bomb synagogues in the Bronx, N.Y., have left many thinking about the security of other Jewish institutions around the country.
The Minnesota Jewish community is no exception. Jewish organizations and institutions, as well as law enforcement authorities throughout the community, are taking stock of their safety and security plans.
According to Anthony Sussman, director of communications and community security at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC), there is a program in place for the safety of the local community.
“We have a program called Safeguarding Our Community, and through that program we work with local, state and federal law enforcement and safety security and other organizations to develop and implement monitoring, prevention, response and education programs for the community,” Sussman told the AJW.
Sussman says that it is important for community members to remain vigilant because the Jewish community is often at the center of controversial issues.
“Being aware of your surroundings and reporting suspicious activity is vital to the safety of the community,” Sussman said.
Minneapolis Police Department spokesman Sgt. Jesse Garcia echoed that advice. He also said that police patrols around synagogues and Jewish offices have been stepped up after the recent events in New York and Washington, D.C.
The St. Louis Park Police Department also intensified patrols of Jewish institutions immediately following the East Coast attacks, according to Jamie Zwilling, the department’s public information officer.
“The important thing would be to say is that we don’t believe… there is any specific threat relating to the incident in Washington, D.C.,” Zwilling said. “That said, we always want to make sure that the community is safe. That means safe feeling and actually being safe from any type of threat. We’re going to do what we can to protect our residents.”
Jewish institutions around the country are working to keep their facilities safe and secure, JTA reported.
The Hillel chapter at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is currently completing construction of a new building. One of the design challenges was figuring out a way to create both an inviting and secure facility.
“On a college campus, you want to be open and limit barriers, but you need to be prepared for when you need those barriers,” said UW Hillel executive director Greg Steinberger.
Fortunately, federal, state and local governments around the country are helping Jewish institutions in their security needs.
A recent JTA report noted that the majority of the $15 million in security grants distributed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was given to organizations with Jewish ties. The grant money comes from the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program, where nonprofit organizations in high-risk areas can apply for federal grants to improve security.
In response to last month’s sting operation led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department, which foiled a plot by four men to bomb two Jewish centers in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave both synagogues a $25,000 grant for increasing their security capacity.
James von Brunn, the 88-year-old alleged gunman at the Holocaust Museum, faces a charge of first-degree murder for the killing of guard Stephen Johns. It has been widely reported that von Brunn was known for his anti-Semitic and racist writings. He was imprisoned previously after a 1981 attempt to kidnap board members of the Federal Reserve in Washington.
Steven Rosenbaum is an editorial intern at the American Jewish World.
(American Jewish World, 6.26.09)