By Motti Gabler
It was Shabbat on a Friday evening, and a group of young men and children had just exited their synagogue to walk home. A car with three occupants pulled up next to these men and boys, screamed at them, and threw something at them before speeding off. The object thrown turned out to be a water balloon, and thankfully no one was hurt. Incidents such as this, however, beg many questions: is it becoming more dangerous for Jews in America? How long before it’s not a water balloon, but something much more dangerous being thrown? And as a Jew myself who walks to and from synagogue every Shabbat, I have to wonder how safe is my synagogue and how safe is your synagogue?
The water balloon story, unfortunately, really happened. I know, it was just a prank, who cares, right? After all, that’s what we were told by the LAPD officer taking our report the following Monday. She didn’t even want to take the report until we insisted The officer’s excuse was, “no one got hurt”. But my response is that “no one got hurt this time”. Today it’s water balloons, but how long until it’s, God forbid, a rock or even a shooting?
The reality that cannot be overlooked is that this incident happened in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, right outside a synagogue, where Jews were exiting. This wasn’t a coincidence; it was a targeting.
Los Angeles is not alone. In March of 2015, several men were seen videotaping a synagogue in Brooklyn, New York. Although the act of videotaping is not in and of itself threatening, the context of this event was similar to that in LA. Here, the men lingered around the synagogue on a Saturday afternoon (the Sabbath) and used their cell phones to record the synagogue and people arriving and entering. The men were eventually shooed away by a security guard, and they drove away in a car with expired plates. No one was hurt, but the incident was alarming nonetheless.
CNN reports that anti-semitic attacks have risen in 2017 by 86% as compared to the same time in 2016. What’s more, the Anti Defamation League suggests there is a direct correlation between threats and attacks on Jews in the US during times when Israel is engaged in a direct conflict with Palestinians (such as the 2014 Israel-Gaza Conflict, a period which also saw an increase in threats and attacks on Jews in the US).
In short, the answer is that yes, it is becoming increasingly more dangerous to be a Jew. And threats against Jews, Jewish organizations, rabbis, and synagogues are on the rise.
But Jews do not have to be willful victims. In the 21st century, there are amazing advances in both technology and awareness at our disposal to help keep us safe. For instance, Bais Yaakov Los Angeles, a religious all-girls Jewish High School, has implemented a cutting edge security system from an Israeli company that uses facial biometrics. In other words, the system uses facial recognition technology. This helps keep all the students and faculty safer.
Furthermore, the Department of Homeland Security offers grants to synagogues to help with the costs of security. While walking up and down Pico Blvd in Los Angeles on a Shabbos afternoon, many of the synagogues also have armed guards by their entrance. In New York, the NYPD has pledged to bump up their presence in and around Jewish neighborhoods to help thwart attacks and threats against both synagogues and Jews.
All my adult life I have felt that the United States is a good and safe place for Jews. The increase in threats and incidents throughout the US has certainly put a strain on this feeling of security. But police forces like the NYPD and government programs such as the DHS’s security grants are offering opportunities to help us to not only feel safer, but to be proactive in helping us to protect ourselves. It is up to all of us to step up and help each other, help our communities, and take advantage of these programs. There may always be people that wish harm to Jews, but if we all do our part, we can help to ensure that our synagogues can be safe places to pray and celebrate God and being Jewish.
-Motti Gabler is a guest blogger for this website. If you would like to be a guest blogger, please submit your blog to this website by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.