WASHINGTON (JTA) — The stabbing of a rabbinical student at Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in New York underscores three things that Jewish security officials have been urging in recent years: Be alert for copycats, cooperate with law enforcement and don’t stay away from shul.
American Jewish community officials have been on the lookout for an attack on a synagogue ever since terrorists killed four worshippers and a policeman in Jerusalem last month, said Paul Goldenberg, the director of Secure Communities Network, which coordinates security for Jewish institutions. The network is a joint project of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Federations of North America.
It’s not yet known if the Jerusalem killings inspired the suspected assailant in the Brooklyn attack in which a man entered the Chabad synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights section and stabbed Levi Rosenblat, 22. In an encounter with police that was captured on video, officers shot and killed the suspect, identified as Calvin Peters, after he refused their order to drop his knife.
Rosenblat was reported to be in an induced coma and was to undergo surgery at a Manhattan hospital where he was transferred.
Goldenberg urged communities to take several steps to address threats to Jewish facilities:
For several years, SCN has aimed to harden potential Jewish targets by running security seminars throughout the country, including attack simulations that test communal preparedness. At the seminars, Jewish community leaders meet with state and federal law enforcement officials and undergo training sessions that include instruction on how to secure a facility, evacuate a building and identify suspicious activity.
Such preparedness measures are credited with minimizing further carnage from an April attack on a Jewish community center in suburban Kansas City, Kan. In that incident, the assailant was discouraged from entering the center because of a locked back door and a front entrance staffed by a guard. Instead he opened fire in the parking lot and at a nearby Jewish home for the elderly, killing three people.
Name a police liaison
Goldenberg urged communities to name a liaison to the local police force, as is the case in New York, where cooperation between the NYPD and local Jewish groups is close.
Deena Saleenfreund, the New Jersey director with Community Security Service, which sends security volunteers to synagogues in the metropolitan New York area, said alerting police to the first sign of suspicious activity was critical.
“The members of a facility know their facility really well, so they have a knowledge that others don’t have and are able to notice things before they happen,” she said.
News reports said a Chabad security guard had turned Peters away earlier in the day. In optimal circumstances, Saleenfreund said, the earlier incident with Peters would have been reported to the police.
Get back to normal
Goldenberg said attackers consider themselves successful when they lead communities to alter their routines, so returning to normal as quickly as possible after an attack is an important component of preparedness.
He urged American Jews to resume their normal business this week — but with heightened awareness.
“We want folks to be vigilant in the days ahead,” Goldenberg said.