Chiam Naiditch, a former airline pilot of seven years who now inspects homes, placed a first-aid training arm on a table. The right “arm,” very pink and sliced below the elbow, with a tube coming out of it attached to a pouch to simulate blood, sat alongside drill bits and various tools in a conference room in the basement of a building in Skokie, Ill.
“It’s very important when you’re a first responder to stop the bleeding,” he told JNS.
Naiditch is the founder and president of Magen Chicago—né Concerned Citizens League Shul Members in 2016—and he welcomed JNS into its offices. He demonstrated how to tie a tourniquet around an arm using the rubber “limb.”
The nonprofit offers free “Stop the Bleed” certification classes to all Chicagoland residents, which is more important training than the public might know, according to Naiditch.
“The top priority for the Chicago Police Department and Magen Chicago when they arrive at the scene is to secure the area,” he said. “We cannot divert our attention, even if there are injured people on the floor bleeding to death. That is why bystanders must be able to act quickly and fill that gap.”
“It could mean the difference between life or death,” said Naiditch.
Dovid Feder, Magen’s volunteer assistant director of training and an Orthodox rabbi, is also an OK Kosher supervisor in the Midwest and an auditor for a certifier of organic, gluten-free and non-GMO foods. He told JNS that the public should do all it can to help police officers act swiftly and strategically. “Before the police are able to come on the scene, someone needs to be a leader and take charge of the situation,” he said.
He added that Magen trains its members for both minor and major threats as they tend to injured people. “The important thing is that we will not cower. We will always be here to plan and protect,” he said.
Roger Heath and Michael Specht—both officers in the Chicago Police Department’s 24th district—are part of the department’s place of worship safety advisory team.
“We serve as the bridge between the Orthodox Jewish community in the Chicagoland area and the Chicago Police Department,” Heath told JNS.
The two officers work with Magen to “promote safety and security among the community through reviewing greeter protocols, building assessments and keeping the community informed of potential threats,” he added. The officers and Magen believe this to be the only such U.S. initiative.
The officers, both Roman Catholic, sought advice from the Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC) and Agudath Israel of Illinois to better understand Orthodox Jewish culture and law. Heath came to understand that many Orthodox Jews will not call police during Shabbat and the Jewish High Holidays so as not to violate religious edicts, even in an emergency and despite the Jewish obligation to save a human life. They have found that instead, such individuals tend to wait until the particular holiday concludes before notifying outside help.
So in May 2022, the officers and the CRC collaborated on a Shabbat phone system, coordinated with T-Mobile, which provided 100 phones and a free year of service to the Jewish community. Carrying a designated phone removed the stigma on Shabbat, they said. But shortly after JNS posed questions about the use of Magen’s technologies on Shabbat, the CRC emailed Magen saying that its app is not approved for Shabbat use, but that the council was investigating, Naiditch told JNS.
‘Neighborhood crime a bigger issue’
Naiditch founded the nonprofit in 2016 as the Concerned Citizens League Shul Members. Other like-minded volunteers joined him in the effort to empower the greater Chicago Jewish community to protect its synagogues. Last November, the group changed its name to reflect its broader mission than just securing synagogues. (In Hebrew, magen, as in Magen David, means “shield,” or in this case, “Shield of David.”)
It has almost 600 people in its WhatsApp community alert channel and more than 150 security professionals in its Signal channel, which six law-enforcement agencies actively monitor, reports Naiditch.
Part of the training Magen provides synagogues is to identify and report suspicious people via Magen’s communications channels. The gunman in a deadly Highland Park shooting in July 2022 visited Chabad’s Central Avenue synagogue several months prior, according to Naiditch. And a suspicious person visited a synagogue in Rogers Park last Rosh Hashanah, but a member of the Magen network turned the person away and notified other synagogues.
“He was later apprehended,” noted Naiditch.
Rising crime rates in Chicago have drawn extensive headlines, but the suburbs have seemed unaffected until recently.
“Lately, we have found that neighborhood crime in Chicago has become a bigger issue than synagogue security in general,” said Naiditch. “Criminals from the City of Chicago are starting to realize there are more goodies to steal in the northern suburbs.”
There have been several cases in which swastika graffiti accompanied thefts, highlighting a possible antisemitic motive, he added.
In 2013, Illinois adopted the Firearm Concealed Carry Act, which allows those with a valid license to carry concealed handguns in public. Magen offers certifications as a shul safety officer (a process the state and nationally certified firearms instructors oversee) and shul safety greeter. The latter is also rigorous, according to Naiditch, but greeters do not carry weapons.
Most of the 50 people Magen has trained are shul safety officers.
It has slowly expanded its offerings to 20 certification classes, ranging from Krav Maga (for both men and women) to CPR training.
Naiditch also aims to grow the organization in other states. He wants to see the 50 trainees double in the coming year, saying: “I also want to purchase more license-plate readers and more CCTV cameras for shul safety, and also increase the number of Krav Maga classes that we offer.”