After Colleyville: A Renewed Focus on Synagogue Safety and Security

January 18, 2022Amy Asin

Pittsburgh. Los Angeles. Poway. And now, Colleyville. Last Saturday, amid what should have been a peaceful Shabbat, our global Jewish family watched in horror as news emerged that members of Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue in Texas, were being held hostage by an armed gunman.

After an 11-hour standoff, we breathed a collective sigh of relief and profound gratitude upon learning that all four hostages, including Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, were finally free. Blessedly, they were physically unharmed - yet we are all too aware that the wounds forged by the mental, emotional, and spiritual trauma of antisemitic terror are both deep and lasting.

In the aftermath of the attack, news headlines report that Jewish institutions are on heightened alert. And yet, we know that the reality of being a Jew today is to be on heightened alert at all times, living with the ever-present knowledge that we risk our lives simply by being ourselves, by embracing our faith, and by being Jews.

We cannot let fear rule our lives or dampen the joy of our Judaism. But as congregational leaders, what we can do - what we must do - is take measures to make our congregations and communities as secure as possible and to ensure preparedness, to the best of our ability, in the event that the unthinkable happens at home.

In this moment, when safety, security, and vigilance are once again top of mind, we share some resources designed to help your congregation and community feel more protected and prepared.

Safety and security webinar

A panel of experts from the Union for Reform Judasim (URJ), Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and Secure Community Network (SCN) teamed up for the "Practical Next Steps on Synagogue Security" webinar.

They discussed practical guidance regarding safety and security systems and protocols for our physical worship, education, and community spaces, addressing questions like:

  • What tangible steps should be taking to increase congregational security?
  • How do we respond to calls for action and concerns from our members?
  • How can we make the most of our relationships with local interfaith colleagues and authorities?

Our ongoing partnership with ADL

The URJ recently joined with ADL, the world's leading anti-hate organization, in a multifaceted partnership designed to provide Reform congregations with the tools to address antisemitism in our communities. (Learn more about this partnership.)

Pairing the expertise of ADL and the resources of the URJ, we're working to better equip congregations to respond to and prevent antisemitic attacks. This partnership also includes collaboration around advocacy and educating youth about antisemitism.

  • A critical toolkit for your congregation: "Responding to Antisemitic Incidents: A Resource for URJ Communities" is a digital resource that provides congregations with tools to respond to acts of antisemitism and hate. It includes practical, in-the-moment guidance, from checklists to contact information to other on-the-ground logistical information, all designed to support your community in times of need. Download the toolkit now.
  • An incident reporting form: In addition to immediately contacting local law enforcement and Security Community Network, ADL and the URJ have also launched an incident reporting form for Reform congregations. If you or a congregant have experienced or witnessed an incident of antisemitism, extremism, bias, bigotry, or hate, please report it to be evaluated for assistance, support, and inclusion in ADL's annual audit of antisemitic incidents. Bookmark the incident reporting form.
  • Balancing our values: Make sure everyone involved in your congregation's security and safety planning recognizes that not all your members and guests feel safe or are safe around armed guards. See "How Can Congregations Be Secure and Welcoming at the Same Time?" for more from the URJ and ADL on balancing security and welcoming practices.
  • Congregational education and advocacy: This week will mark the pilot of Act Against Antisemitism, a pilot program in which 20 Reform synagogues dig deep into educating their synagogues about antisemitism. We look forward to sharing learnings, insight, and practical guidance from this project as it progresses.

Resources from the Secure Community Network

The Secure Community Network (SCN) works with Jewish communities and partners across North America to develop and implement strategic frameworks that enhance the safety and security of the Jewish people, developing best practice policies and procedures, undertaking threat and vulnerability assessments, coordinating training and education, and more.

  • Go through this security checklist: SCN shares an immediate to-do list for congregations in the wake of the Colleyville attack, including reviewing your emergency plan, reinforcing cybersecurity, and scheduling a training drill. Read more security tips for congregations.
  • Train on countering an active threat: In May, SCN conducted this comprehensive training for URJ congregations. In the comments section of this Tent post, you can request access to the recording of this webinar.
  • Apply for a security grant: SCN can help your congregation navigate the process of applying for a Nonprofit Security Grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Watch a recording of the webinar.
  • Learn about low-cost and no-cost options: This SCN resource shares a list of inexpensive and cost-free opportunities to create a more safe and secure community. Read SCN's security recommendations.
  • Be judicious in considering armed security: In this publication, SCN shares guidance for congregations considering their many security options. Read "Firearms and the Faithful." In addition, make sure that any security personnel - paid or volunteer - have gone through anti-bias training and base their response on behavior, not appearance.

Additional resources from the URJ and beyond

Beyond congregational safety and security, we know that you and your congregants are also in need of spiritual nourishment and practical, expert guidance for speaking to children about this act of terror.

  • A prayer for this moment: Reform Jewish liturgist Alden Solovy wrote "For Colleyville, Texas," a prayer of healing for the those held hostage, the rest of the congregation, and the broader Jewish community.
  • A liturgy after terror attacks: Also by Alden Solovy, this four-piece liturgy includes "After a Terror Attack," "To Terror Survivors," "To the Terrorists," and "Let Tranquility Reign."
  • Songs for healing: Compiled by Cantor Rosalie Will, this playlist can be used in gatherings of healing and hope.
  • Guidance for parents and educators: Jewish tradition implores us to face difficult situations together, choosing life and purposeful action in the face of loss and uncertainty. "Helping Children Process Acts of Terrorism" shares guidelines to help children cope.
  • Additional resources: See "Jewish Resources for Coping with Acts of Terror" for more prayers and other resources to guide parents and educators in speaking to children about man-made tragedy and violence.

As congregational leaders, we are always strongest when we work together, leveraging the power of our Jewish communal network to share resources and expertise to keep us as safe and secure as possible.

For continued conversations and resource-sharing related to synagogue safety and security, make sure your congregation's security working group or task force is connected to the URJ in the Safety and Security group in The Tent, where we post resources, announcements of webinars, and convene discussion.


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