By DAVID PORTNOE
Security is always on the agenda of Jewish Community Centers and the larger Jewish community, but two separate waves of bomb threats against JCCs across the country has brought the issue of security even further to the forefront of the Jewish community in general and JCCs in particular. The Katz JCC in Cherry Hill invited its membership to a Town Hall Meeting on security Jan. 19. Panelists who spoke about security at the JCC and took questions from the membership included: Les Cohen, JCC executive director; Jeffrey Gottlieb, JCC president; Chief William Monaghan of the Cherry Hill Police Department; Andrew Smith, New Jersey security advisor for the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security; and Kevin Seta, coordinator for the Cherry Hill Office of Emergency Management.
In opening the meeting, JCC President Gottlieb told those assembled in the social hall, “We care about the safety and security of you, your families, and your children.”
JCC Director Les Cohen added that the most important message he wanted to convey is that “when it comes to security and safety, we take this seriously.” Cohen said the JCC works daily with local police and other officials on security. He also noted that as of that day, the JCC in Cherry Hill had not received any threats, contrary to some misinformation reported in the media.
Cohen said that today’s world is not the same one that many of those in the room grew up in. He also noted that he would not share details of the JCC’s emergency plan with the public, because that could compromise the effectiveness of that plan. He told those present that the JCC leadership and law enforcement were there that evening to listen to concerns and consider the suggestions made.
Monaghan said that his department has a “true partnership, not just with the JCC, but with the Jewish Federation and the local schools. “The trust is built between us,” he said, adding that the Federation, the JCC, and other Federation agencies have a direct line to him. “We do have a plan and we do work together.”
Monaghan noted that safety starts with the public. “If you see something that does not look right, you need to let someone know.”
The Dept. of Homeland Security’s Andrew Smith said that he worked closely with the JCC when it hosted the Maccabi Games. He also mentioned SAFE-NJ, an app that allows people to have direct contact with the New Jersey State Police. Smith echoed Chief Monaghan’s encouragement to report things that don’t look right. “If you see something, say something.”
JCC members in attendance were then invited to ask questions and offer suggestions, which ranged from installing a guardhouse and bullet-proof glass to moving certain activities to areas of the building that were less directly accessible to the general public. In addition to the suggestions to enhance security, several people expressed the hope that the JCC would maintain the character it has always had that makes it a center of Jewish life in the area.
“We don’t want the children to live in fear,” said Monaghan. “We are all in this together.”
Les Cohen said that every suggestion made would be discussed and considered, but due to safety concerns the amount of information released to the public would need to be limited. Releasing what the JCC was doing would jeopardize the effectiveness of those measures, he said. In the days following the Town Hall meeting, the JCC membership was informed of a number of steps being taken to enhance security.