Safety during high holidays

Safety during high holidays

Applying lessons on securing synagogues during high holidays are not just for those of the Jewish faith. Many churches and mosques have been attacked in past years, so the lessons here are applicable for all institutions. Sadly, we’re in a time when people intent on causing harm are emboldened. Targeting minorities is modus operandi of mass murders, and Jews in this country have been targeted in shootings like those at the Poway Chabad house. With Jewish high holidays around the corner and many holidays ahead, it’s good to review steps on staying safe.

Be aware

How often do we go about our day unaware of our actions and surroundings? It is like we are on autopilot, and we barely notice anything out of the ordinary. This can be dangerous, as we are lulling us into a sense of security. All that’s needed is one person noticing something suspicious and alerting authorities.

We often assume those tasked with protecting us are the only ones who need to be aware of the surroundings. That is simply not the case now; we are all in this together. While law enforcement professionals have been key in neutralizing active shooters in previous months, civilians increasingly played a role, especially reporting suspicious activity prior to the shootings.

If you see something, say something

Americans tend to mind our business, particularly in New York City. This can be dangerous. While we don not want to disturb anyone if we see something suspicious, we must do something. In Israel, if someone sees something suspicious like a bag randomly left on a park bench, authorities are notified immediately. Such behavior has saved numerous lives, and it is a behavior we need to model in the US. With assault rifles the weapon of choice for shooters, they could start using other methods like planting bombs. It’s not pleasant to think about, but we must prepare for the worst.

Have a plan

Leadership of any synagogue should enact a plan related to an active shooter or other emergency. Preparation starts from leadership, which means believing an attack on a religious institution is possible. A major problem with school safety is that leaders believed a shooting couldn’t occur there and didn’t prepare. This wrong thinking costs lives. Have an emergency plan and make sure everyone is on the same page.


Leaders at a synagogue and volunteers on the board should communicate with local law enforcement professionals and let congregants know safety precautions have been taken. Fear should not stop anyone from attending services. We face threats every day. Courage is about facing fear and acting on it.

During this period of family time, even during uncertainty, we must be ready for anything. History has shown that when countries are unable to protect minorities – be they Jews, Muslims or Christians – the long-term prospects of that country succeeding are not great. While we can’t control everything around us, we can hope for the best and prepare for the worst.