Op-Ed: Taking security seriously is a community concern


NEW YORK (JTA) — We live in an unpredictable world. As Americans, we do our best to cope with threats of terrorism on a daily basis, and we put our faith into the intelligence community, trusting that those who are tasked with keeping us safe are vigilant in their quest.

We need only look at recent events, like the death of Osama bin Laden or the thwarting of two bombs aimed at New York City synagogues, to realize that the men and women in uniform — and others not in uniform — are constantly going above and beyond to watch over us and keep terrorism at bay.

But in the American Jewish community, that is not always enough. Throughout history, our Jewish community centers, schools and places of worship have been the targets of violent extremism, and even with the watchful eye of our government there is no sign of that abating. In fact, just days after bin Laden’s killing, al-Qaeda in Yemen called for retaliatory attacks against Jewish targets.

In today’s security atmosphere, we in the Jewish community must heighten our awareness and be increasingly alert at all times. The Department of Homeland Security approached The Jewish Federations of North America and the Secure Community Network (SCN), an initiative funded by The Jewish Federations, to address the threat of terrorism together because of our role connecting Jewish communities and organizations across the country.

It was the first time that the governmental security agency teamed up with a faith-based community to advance its "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign. The program, which engages the public in identifying and reporting indicators of terrorism, crime and other threats, includes customized posters, announcements and alerts for the U.S. Jewish community.

To kick off the joint initiative, leaders from nearly every major U.S. Jewish organization were on hand when Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano made the announcement in the historic Roosevelt Room of the White House, just steps away from the Oval Office. This universal cooperation will be the key to the program’s success because our security will require the whole community’s involvement.

Napolitano spent nearly an hour detailing the plans to promote security within the Jewish community. The biggest take-away from the meeting is that communication is the first line of defense when it comes to our security.

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and reflect on the fifth anniversary of the Seattle Jewish Federation shootings, we mourn those who have fallen victim to horrific acts of terrorism. Despite our best efforts to counter those who wish us harm, it is nearly impossible to ensure stability in a world that is constantly evolving.

Threats to our safety remain elevated, and as a people we must stay vested in our own well-being. If we empower ourselves with the knowledge necessary to keep our communities safe, we can all play a role in fighting terrorism and creating a more secure environment across the American Jewish community.

(Jerry Silverman is the president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America.)

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