NEW YORK (JTA) — The breaking news from France yesterday morning was tragic. Just after 8:00 a.m., a lone assailant on a motorcycle pulled up in front of the Ozar Hatorah School in a quiet neighborhood in the eastern part of Toulouse and opened fire with two high-powered handguns. The fusillade of gunfire was at close range and lethal. Four were killed in the attack, including a father and his two young children, and a third child, literally executed at point-blank range. A fourth student was critically injured.
The attack lasted all of a minute. French President Nicolas Sarkozy rushed to the city north of the Pyrenees and declared, “This is a day of national tragedy because children were killed in cold blood.”
The world was horrified by the massacre of Jewish children in France, but it should not be surprised by it.
In 2004, I traveled to Europe as the senior U.S. law enforcement representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE. I spent four years assessing vulnerable houses of worship and community centers across the continent. In Europe, Jewish synagogues and day schools are often surrounded by rows of concertina wire, a bank of surveillance cameras, and a phalanx of heavily-armed counterterrorist police. Law enforcement agencies have assessed their small Jewish communities tactically, the way they would an embassy or a financial center, and have created — by no fault of their own — fortresses in the process.
The sight of Jewish communities, some that have been forced behind walls out of concern about terror, saddened me. The dream of being able to worship freely, and to send one’s children to school without the fear of random violence, was one of the foundations this nation was built on. In the United States, synagogues are not just houses of worship, and Jewish schools and community centers are not mere facilities for education and gathering places. They are American institutions. An attack against any of these symbols is an attack against all of us.
The question of whether or not the American Jewish community is targeted by hatred and terror is not up for debate. Jews here and abroad remain targets. Tripwires around the world can trigger an attack; global conflict serves to put the entire Jewish community on alert. In this country, both law enforcement and the Jewish community recognize this unique reality and have taken proactive and outside-the-box steps to create a culture of security that joins the mission of the Department of Homeland Security with the concerns of the Jewish community.
In 2004, the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations partnered with DHS to create the Secure Community Network (SCN). Since then, SCN has advised community leaders around the country on measures to enhance the physical security of their schools, community centers, and houses of worship. SCN has trained security staffers at these locations, and served as a liaison for local and federal law enforcement. This flow of information enables community leaders to prepare Jewish facilities and to increase vigilance. The lifeblood of this effort is the flow of accurate information to community security heads and leaders.
SCN also operates a national emergency notification system with the capability to alert hundreds of senior Jewish leaders of terrorist threats and security alerts in real time. The foundation of this initiative is the flow of accurate, real-time information about potential or actual threats. The Jewish community cannot be held hostage by fear generated from “breaking news” flashes or Internet rumors. Fear cannot be the currency of day-to-day life for this or any other community. It must thrive and survive, and accurate information and security protocols are vital to this equation.
Recently, thanks to the assistance of Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and with the support of JFNA, SCN has introduced the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign, an effort that has helped safeguard New York City transit, the American Jewish community and others. The partnership with law enforcement and homeland security creates confidence and empowerment that nurtures a culture of security. A culture of security prevents us from succumbing to terror and violence. Empowerment comes through knowledge, awareness and better understanding of how to mitigate risk and threats to our community and institutions.
The day after has come to France, and the 15,000 Jews in Toulouse mourn their dead and ponder the future now that their sense of security has been forever shattered. Across the ocean, the day after warrants that the American Jewish community consider building a culture of security through empowerment, not fear. There can be no copycats of Toulouse here in this country. Attacks that specifically target and kill Jewish children are so abhorrent and unthinkable that they paralyze a community’s ability to function and thrive.
That was exactly the murderer’s objective when he pulled the trigger with the first of his victims in his sight. It is, therefore, of the greatest importance that the fanatics and terrorists are denied their cold-blooded goals.
In Israel, citizens who are now numb to the reality of daily terrorist violence refuse to allow suicide bombers to interfere with their daily need to travel on buses, shop at malls, or sit and unwind in cafés. During World War II, the resolute British nation endured the Blitz under the banner of Stay Calm and Carry On, a statement that the complexion of their national identity and their national resolve could not be deconstructed by Nazi bombs.
The American Jewish community must follow these brave leads. They must remain vigilant, maintain their level of alert, and most importantly, they must broadcast the message loud and clear that we are open for business as usual — and, most importantly, “If You See Something, Say Something.”
Paul Goldenberg is the national director of the Secure Community Network, an initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America.