In the wake of two synagogue shootings over the last eight months, Jewish congregations across the country have been actively preparing for more violence.
In May we reported on "Tactical Rabbi" Raziel Cohen, a firearms instructor who told the Westside Los Angeles Chabad congregation in the wake of the Poway, California synagogue shooting that left one dead: "We don't want to be victims," adding "We need to protect ourselves now."
"The benefit of having an individual in the synagogue with a gun is that they’re fighting for something," said Cohen, adding "They’re much more willing to defend their kids than a person who is being paid $15 an hour."
Meanwhile, congregations across the country are conducting active shooter drills according to the Times of Israel.
After a span of eight months that included shootings at two synagogues, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Poway, California, congregations across the country are actively drilling their members on how to act if terror arrives at their doorstep. Some, like Beth Hillel-Beth El, have run active shooter scenarios during services. Others have detailed plans in place should a shooting occur. Others have trained a group of congregants in how to fight gunmen when they come through the door. -Times of Israel
"It was not a high-energy, kind of catching people off-guard kind of thing," said Rabbi Neil Cooper of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood, PA, of a recent active shooter drill "We also wanted to let people know, more than anything else, that we’re on top of this. We have a procedure. We have people looking out."
Active shooter drills and Tactical Rabbi aside, congregations across the country are employing a "range of other security measures" according to the Times, which include "locking doors, reinforcing windows and hiring armed security," while "Some congregations have encouraged members to carry handguns at services, while others have installed new restrictions on carrying guns in synagogue."
Krav Maga - the Israeli military's close-quarter martial art, is also being taught in synagogues now.
Avi Abraham, an Israeli martial arts expert who teaches Krav Maga, the Israeli hand-to-hand combat system, has taught self-defense courses to groups at more than 20 synagogues in the New York City area. His course consists of six hourlong classes for groups of congregants where they learn how to take down a shooter. He also offers the option of drilling the technique during services. The program costs $1,500 to $2,000.
Abraham teaches the groups how to collectively pounce on an attacker from the side as he’s entering a doorway, then to tackle him and take his weapon. He said the technique depends more on “sechel,” or good sense, than on physical strength. Those who aren’t fighting, Abraham said, should lie on the ground so as to be out of the line of fire. -Times of Israel
"People very rarely rise to the occasion," during a mass shooting, according to Michael Masters, executive director of the Secure Community Network, an umbrella organization that provides guidance to Jewish institutions on security procedures. "They fall back to their level of training. Our goal is to give people a plan in their minds so that if an event happens, they have a toolbox they can draw from effectively."
The active shooter trainings often follow the mantra of “run, hide, fight,” which means to choose one of those three options and commit to it — either running to a safe place, hiding somewhere secure or fighting the gunman. As the congregants at Beth Hillel-Beth El filed through an exit at the front of the sanctuary, opposite the doors, ushers locked the main entrance and triggered a silent alarm to the police.
The trainings complement active shooter drills that have been taking place for years at schools, including Jewish ones. Beth Hillel-Beth El’s preschool has been running active shooter drills since at least 2013. Because the kids range from infants to kindergartners, sometimes keeping them quiet during the drill means hugging them or giving them lollipops. -Times of Israel
In Salt Lake City, Utah, the Kol Ami liberal synagogue was given a security briefing by the Utah Highway Patrol. While it did not include an active shooter drill, Rabbi Samuel Spector told the Times that it made people feel more at ease.
"People were saying, ‘Okay, now I’m thinking about what my escape route would be," said Spector, adding "If I’m here, could I throw my siddur [prayer book] at the person? I think that a lot of people, at least that night, started to think about their plan."
"This is not business as usual," said Rabbi Neil Cooper. "We just cannot do it like that anymore. We live in a world where it no longer can be assumed that things are safe, as unsettling as it might be. We have to run services in the world in which we’re living and praying."