A year after the firebombing of a local Jewish school shocked the Montreal Jewish community, a comprehensive review of security procedures at community institutions is nearly complete. The racially motivated bombing in April 2004 caused no injuries but left the library of the United Talmud Torah a blackened, reeking ruin. It also shocked the community, which numbers some 92,000, out of its attitude that “It can’t happen here.”
As Barry Rishikoff, executive director of Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools/Bialik puts it, “We always felt very safe. We always felt that we were outside the sphere of these kinds of things.”
The community has reported only a few incidents of graffiti and minor acts of vandalism since the arson.
Still, Federation CJA posted guards at all Jewish schools until the end of the 2004 academic year, and initiated a system-wide security assessment of schools, day-care centers and other prominent Jewish facilities.
“The long-term solution involved ensuring that we had a security infrastructure in all of our schools and day cares,” said Bram Freedman, Federation CJA’s director of operations and strategic initiatives. “And, secondly, that we invested resources in training and education.”
The community chose a New York firm, International Security Associates, to advise it on new equipment and procedures. Headed by Steve Levy, a former detective with the district attorney’s office in King’s County, New York, and security consultant for El Al, ISA specializes in counseling nonprofit Jewish organizations. ISA has worked with the UJA-Federation of New York and with a number of Jewish community centers across the United States.
Over the course of two summer months in Montreal, Levy and his team visited 35 schools and day-care centers and prepared a written assessment of each site. Those assessments became the basis of security decisions about equipment and standards, which are now being implemented at all locations surveyed.
“By the end of the current school year we’ll have all the sites completed,” Freedman said. “Meanwhile, a preliminary education and sensitization campaign has begun. The formal training aspect will start at the beginning of the new school year, next August and September.”
The new equipment governs surveillance and access and includes closed-circuit camera systems, alarm systems and intercoms. Every entry point to the institutions will have a human presence and video observation.
“No unexpected visitor can just walk in,” Freedman said. “The doors are locked. You have to buzz. Somebody will question you at the door. Once granted access, you have to report to the office. In some schools you’ll be issued a visitor’s pass. In other schools you won’t be allowed on the floors. If you want to meet someone, they’ll meet you at the office. If you chat with students through the fence, that will certainly result in a phone call to the office, and possibly some pictures of you. People are more aware of the general concern, and less willing to take chances.”
The average cost to outfit a facility that previously had no security equipment is about $40,000. Annual maintenance of equipment at each site will be less than $800.
The community’s contract with ISA is ongoing, and Levy’s group will come to Montreal periodically to perform inspections and make recommendations.
During the community’s last fund-raising campaign, from August to November 2004, a special appeal was made for security and the fight against anti-Semitism.
“As a result of that appeal, we allocated between $1.5 and $2 million to upgrading the security infrastructure in all of our schools and day cares,” Freedman said.
As part of the new security protocol, the decision was made to create a permanent position of director of community security. Michel Bujold, former security director at Montreal’s Concordia University, was hired to fill the post in September, overseeing a staff of four.
“We’re creating a resource for the schools that they didn’t have before, somebody to call when they have a particular concern,” Bujold said. “I’m able to follow up with police investigations and assist schools with taking appropriate action vis-a-vis a threat, or an observation that they notice is ‘off.’ Just having a presence, dropping by once in a while, has helped a lot.”
Bujold’s interaction with the schools and day-care centers has sensitized teachers and support staff to issues they may not have thought about before. He has gone so far as to sneak into buildings a few times, not to test but to coach. He sees himself more as a resource than as an inspector.
“We’re looking at alternatives for formal training processes, starting in the fall,” he said. “You can have the best equipment in the world, but if you don’t have your training and your protocols working. . .”
Rishikoff, the school administrator, said he now feels much more comfortable about security.
“Nothing in the recommendations of the original security audit was skimped on in any way,” he said. “All our expectations, based on the assessment, have been met.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.