It wasn’t until Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker heard the click of the gun that he realized something terrible was happening at Temple Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. The seemingly homeless man who claimed he was seeking shelter in the synagogue that morning was taking the congregation hostage at the moment their backs were turned to face the holy ark in prayer. It took 11 excruciating hours for the rabbi and his congregants, with the aid of law enforcement, to free themselves and avert an even greater disaster.
As we approach Passover—a holiday that demands every generation to relive the Jewish exodus from bondage—the experience at Colleyville stands as a sharp reminder of how intricately security and freedom are linked. They are two sides of the same coin: We cannot have security without freedom, and we cannot have freedom without security.
This horrible hostage-taking was just the latest in a growing series of such violent attacks on Jewish facilities, beginning at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018 and continuing through Poway, Monsey, Brooklyn, Jersey City, Boston and more. And this doesn’t include the planned attacks that have been thwarted by law enforcement and good security practices.
These episodes all stem from a campaign of vilification of the Jewish people and of the Jewish state that has gained steam in recent years. Anti-Semitism is a virulent, mutating virus that isn’t going away.
That is why the Jewish Federations of North America have taken unprecedented action, launching an ambitious, far-reaching plan to shield the entire North American Jewish community from terrorist attacks and hate crimes—a vision we call LiveSecure.
In 50 of 146 Jewish Federations across the country, there are comprehensive, professionally directed security initiatives to aid the entire community. An experienced community security director works with every Jewish organization in the community on a coordinated plan, providing training and critical security information in concert with the Secure Community Network (SCN), our national security partner established by the Jewish Federation system in 2004.
The security director also helps local institutions apply for government security grants, which we have just successfully lobbied Congress to increase from $180 million to $250 million per year—and we are still advocating for greater funding. LiveSecure will help expand these community security initiatives to every Jewish community in the United States and Canada, and strengthen the ones that are already in place.
At the end of March, Jewish Federations announced the completion of Phase I of LiveSecure, raising a total of $62 million and exceeding a goal of $54 million, which will enable each and every community to launch or enhance their local programs and enable SCN to serve as a resource to each of these communities. Each community will match the system-wide grant on a 2:1 basis. Together, we will direct approximately $150 million in private philanthropy to this challenge, in addition to the growing public funding.
Jewish Federations work every day to help build and sustain flourishing Jewish communities—ones that are healthy, safe, caring, welcoming and inclusive, educated and engaged, involved in broader society and deeply connected to Israel and the global Jewish people.
But we cannot encourage full participation in Jewish life unless we are safe and secure. And true security requires more than cameras and guards. What ultimately saved the day for Cytron-Walker and his congregants was the training they received from the FBI, local law enforcement and SCN. It was the same training that the rabbi and members of the Tree of Life credited with preventing the worst anti-Semitic attack on American soil from being even deadlier. These activities must be coordinated and repeated, year in and year out, together with constant updating of physical security measures and information sharing.
In every generation, as the Passover Haggadah says, evil-doers rise up against us. We now have 21st-century ways to defeat them. We won’t stop until every Jewish community on the continent is safe and secure, and thus truly free.
Julie Platt is the national campaign chair of Jewish Federations of North America.