ROME (Oct. 27)
Jews here received something extra this month with their regular copy of the Jewish community’s magazine: a nine-page manual of anti-terrorism security guidelines.
Titled “Some Useful Advice on How to Live More Safely,” the brochure, published by the community, also provided a 24-hour hotline number for use in case of emergency.
“It’s not the first time that the community has issued security guidelines, but it is the first time that we got the magazine, Shalom, involved,” Jewish community spokesman Riccardo Pacifici told JTA.
“We wanted to make sure that it reached as many Jewish families as possible,” he said. Shalom is distributed widely among Rome’s 15,000-strong community.
The booklet states that synagogues, Jewish schools and other Jewish centers and institutions represent potential terrorist targets.
This, it says, makes a heightened awareness of security indispensable.
“It doesn’t mean that you must live your Jewish life only thinking about how to defend yourself,” the booklet says, “but that greater attention on all our part could help us prevent ill-intentioned people from committing actions against the community.”
The booklet was prepared by Gianni Zarfati, director of security for Rome’s Jewish community.
It was issued almost 20 years to the day after Palestinian terrorists hurled hand grenades and fired on the crowd leaving Rome’s main synagogue on Oct. 9, 1982. A toddler was killed and about 100 other congregants were injured in the attack.
The attack took place amid a groundswell of anti-Israel feeling in the wake of the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon. Throughout the 1980s, Rome was the scene of several other Palestinian terrorist attacks.
Since that time, Jews in Rome have sharply stepped up security. The community instituted its own internal security operation, and gained protection from the state.
“Obviously, politicians and the forces of order were totally embarrassed for having undervalued the signs of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism that had opened the way to the attack on the synagogue,” Zarfati told Shalom.
Armed Italian police began guarding the synagogue, the Jewish schools and other institutions.
By now, said Pacifici, police stationed outside the Jewish schools are such a familiar presence that children suspect something is wrong if they are not in place. “This is how we have grown up,” he said. “It’s just the opposite from a regular school, when the it is the appearance of police that gives cause for alarm.”
The security manual is directed at adults and children alike. It is divided into seven sections, each of which describes norms of behavior. It urges Jews to be watchful, particularly around synagogues and other Jewish institutions and to make sure that no one can insert something into handbags, backpacks or cars.
The booklet also advises what to do in case of emergency, or if a suspicious person, package, vehicle or object is spotted.
One of its key points is that individuals should not inadvertently supply information about Jewish communal operations that could eventually aid terrorists.
“Most of us are already sensitized to many things, but we are not sensitized to the possibility that information, even banal information, could be used,” Pacifici said.
Therefore, the booklet advises, “Avoid talking in a loud voice about appointments, events, itineraries or meetings that regard the life of the community: people with bad intentions could be listening.”
Pacifici said the response to the booklet has been generally positive, but that there were some complaints that it actually caused a sense of panic.
For example, the booklet cautions Jews to “avoid showing off your Judaism in an exaggerated way with strangers; it could cause an unpredictable chain reaction.”
“It does seem to be me to be a bit premature,” said Alexander, a member of the Rome community who is the father of a 3-year-old boy. “But on the other hand, it is similar to material that we have been receiving from the community by other means for years. I just hope that the time never comes when we need it.”