If you have been a regular reader of this column, by now I hope you are getting a feel for the breadth of our JCRC portfolio. Holocaust education, Israel advocacy, interfaith relations and government affairs continue to be the focus of much of our time, resources and programming. But an area of activity that had once taken up a much smaller portion of our time has grown significantly in just the last few years–our role in working to enhance the safety and security of our Jewish community.
Although we are not responsible for the physical security of synagogues, day schools, or the various Jewish agencies that comprise the Jewish Federation, we do take seriously the responsibility of working to build relationships with local, state and federal law enforcement so that they know “us” and we know “them.”
Several weeks ago, I attended the quarterly meeting of the NJ Department of Homeland Security Interfaith Advisory Council on which I, law enforcement professionals, rabbis, imams, priests, and other faith-based leaders sit. It caught me by surprise in this day and age how many of my fellow council members, both clergy and non-clergy, from different parts of the state did not have a relationship with representatives from their local police department. Thanks to the proactive community engagement efforts of our local police departments, the same cannot be said here in South Jersey. Within just the past few weeks, I have been in meetings or training sessions with Cherry Hill Police Chief William “Bud” Monaghan, Voorhees Township Police Chief Louis Bordi, as well as with representatives from the State police, officials from the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, as well as representatives from the Camden and Burlington County prosecutors’ offices.
Each and every encounter not only provides me with an opportunity to express our community’s collective appreciation for their service and protection, but also gives me a chance to educate and share with them how concerned and insecure we as Jews feel at times knowing our facilities, employees, members, customers and clients have been targets in other places around the country and the world simply because of our religion.
It is for this reason that we are constantly encouraging and supporting opportunities for members of our community to “mix and mingle” with law enforcement when they can. As an example, for the better part of the past 20 years, we have partnered with the South Jersey Men’s Club in hosting the South Jersey Law Enforcement Appreciation breakfast attended by upwards of 200 police officers and law enforcement professionals. Also, this past fall we co-sponsored a forum with groups such as the Cherry Hill African-American Civic Association and the Muslim American Community Association about community relations with the Cherry Hill Police Department. Our JCRC has regular representation at Camden Corporate Watch meetings, Burlington County Office of Emergency Management community roundtable meetings, NJ Office of Homeland Security (NJOHSP) Faith-based Advisory Council gatherings, to name just a few. In fact, later this month we will be hosting a security workshop, in partnership with the NJOHSP, for faith-based institutions, and currently have over 130 registrants. The information that we learn at these sessions are brought back to Jewish institutions in our area and have led to several security and communications initiatives that may not have been enacted otherwise.
However, I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to remind each and every one of you reading this that our community’s security starts first and foremost with YOU. We are told time and time again by law enforcement that as much as they wish they could be everywhere at all times, that is just not a reality. They rely on each of us to be the necessary additional eyes and ears within our synagogues, JCCs, day schools and senior centers, to be alert and call 9-1-1 whenever there is anything deemed suspicious, whether that be an unattended bag or individual that simply seems out of place. So please, if you see something, say something, and know that the safety and security of our community is always of top concern by our Federation, agency and Jewish institution leadership.
If you have any ideas or suggestions about security in our community, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org