Antisemitic groups online organized a “Day of Hate” last month to harass Jewish communities across the United States. Yet long before the day itself, MAGEN Chicago was working closely with police to raise Chicago’s awareness of the event and ensure the community’s safety. And after the event passed without incident, the organization continued to keep its guard up as its members trained in simulated defensive scenarios.
Two weeks before Feb. 25—a day of riots called for by radical hate groups—MAGEN Chicago was coordinating with Chicago Police 024th District POWSAT (Place of Worship Advisory Team) to design and post advisory signs in synagogues. In the days beforehand, POWSAT Officers Michael Specht and Roger Heath held a briefing with the Shul Safety Officers and Shul Safety Greeters (SSOs and SSGs) to analyze recent events and review security protocols. POWSAT also publicly circulated a “Day of Hate Community Alert” on the current status and safety recommendations for the day, as well as posted updates on MAGEN Chicago’s Shul Alert and Public Community Alert WhatsApp Channel.
“The purpose for the alert was to ensure the community remained situationally aware of their surroundings at all times,” said Specht. “POWSAT would rather have community members be proactive and ready for any situation that could have arisen, as opposed to being unaware of potential situations and having to react.”
On its end, MAGEN Chicago made sure that Shabbat emergency phones were in working order. It also organized a social-media and email campaign to inform the community on how to stay safe and avoid agitators. On the day itself, SSOs and SSGs in synagogues across Chicagoland were on high alert. Afterwards, members were there to investigate rumors of instigators blocking the entrance to the local Kosher Jewel supermarket. When the day ended without incident, Chicagoans breathed a sigh of relief and went on with their lives.
But for MAGEN Chicago, that simply meant more preparation and training. This month, the organization worked with Brian Doyle, a CPD SWAT instructor in the Tactical Training Unit (Ret.). SSOs and SSGs also attended a seminar on threat assessment and legal options for response; they then played out real-life scenarios in their virtual simulator.
MAGEN Chicago president Chiam Naiditch was on hand for the training. He said “it was a great class in threat assessment and responding to these scenarios in our simulator, which is similar to the type that police departments use for training. A special ‘thank you’ goes out to Brian Doyle. He did an excellent job conveying how to think and react to real-world situations under increased stress.”
Doyle emphasized the current need for such expertise. “Training on simulators is the closest thing to a real-world experience that will elicit realistic responses,” he said. “It develops good muscle memory; sharpens situational awareness and the ability to read people’s demeanor; and constructs a good working foundation to build upon.”
Dovid Feder, assistant training director, was impressed with the level of professionalism. “The threat-assessment course was based on years of experience and nuanced for our civilian positions as SSOs. Brian Doyle showed the class how to look at a situation, judge threats and decide how best to react.”
Feder said the simulated training adds a tremendous asset to Chicago’s SSO program: “This, along with our ongoing training in combat medicine and advanced self-defense, makes MAGEN Chicago’s program very well-rounded and complete.”
Naiditch was grateful for the volunteers who stepped forward to protect the community, saying “last month’s ‘Day of Hate’ was a non-event, thank G-d. We ended up using it as a realistic training exercise. If something like this happens again, we will be even more prepared. We thank our dedicated Chicago Police POWSAT Officers Specht and Heath, and all of our volunteer SSOs and SSGs, for stepping up to the plate and doing what is needed to help keep our community safe. We owe them all our sincere gratitude.”
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