By Larry Gordon
It is a difficult subject to write about in a public forum like this. Yet it is imperative that people know what is being done in communities like ours here in New York and, no doubt, elsewhere around the country in the aftermath of wanton brutal terrorist assaults that have targeted Jewish communities. It is also important that we maintain confidentiality about security measures that have been in effect of late and the fashion in which they have been upgraded, taking into consideration the events in Paris last week.
Even as over three million gathered at a solidarity rally in Paris on Sunday in an expression of international outrage at the attacks on the free rein that too many countries have been affording jihadists, there are still many puzzling questions left unanswered.
It was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who asked on Friday about where the protest and the outrage was in the aftermath of the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teenagers last June. Where was the organized disapproval of the way in which so many governments and leaders remain apathetic after terrorists burst into a shul in Jerusalem and hacked and shot four men to death as they stood and prayed?
Netanyahu inquired about this awful international double standard that displays acceptance of terror directed at Israel and Jews but goes into a tizzy and an uproar when others are victims. He said that the world conducts itself as if terror attacks on Jews in Israel are somehow warranted and understandable, but when it comes to murders and attacks elsewhere in the world there is a moral revulsion and indignation.
These are issues that need to be explored and now is the time to do so. We also need to deal with the day-to-day practical approaches we can implement to protect everyday citizens from the ruthlessness of terrorist murderers who are free to roam and perpetrate attacks like those in Paris last week.
It is becoming abundantly clear that the French intelligence services dropped the ball on this one, easing up on their surveillance of characters who committed last week’s murders. There is something terribly incongruous about being so committed to freedom and self-expression that you allow ISIS and Al Qaeda terrorists to run amok.
Here in New York, as soon as the news broke on Friday that a terrorist had taken over a kosher supermarket on erev Shabbos, everyone took notice and police in New York City and Nassau County sprang into action with enhances measures.
U.S. Representative Kathleen Rice of New York’s 4th District, who was recently nominated to serve on the House Committee on Homeland Security, released the following statement in response to the attacks: “I commend the French government for deploying additional security forces to Jewish schools and other potential targets of anti-Semitic violence, and I’m praying for peace and safety during this terrifying time for the French people and especially France’s Jewish community. Last week’s attacks are a tragic and chilling reminder that anti-Semitism remains a very real threat in the modern world, and we must be united and unwavering in our opposition to it.
“I’ve been in communication with local law enforcement and members of our district’s Jewish community to ensure that the appropriate measures are taken to enhance security in the Five Towns, protect our schools, grocery stores, and business districts, and provide residents with a sense of safety at this time of fear and uncertainty. I urge everyone to remain alert and report any suspicious activity to the proper authorities.”
Some believe stepping up and increasing patrols around kosher supermarkets here because of what happened over there is a limited and even myopic response of sorts. Yehuda Dafna of ISS Action Security Services assesses the situation from a far different perspective. To Yehuda, who has security contracts with the U.S. government as well as a variety of private clients, the Jewish communities, particularly in high-profile areas, have to take a new look at a dramatically changing situation.
In brief, his recommendation is preliminarily for all yeshivas, shuls, and other Jewish institutions to have armed security guards as a first line of defense in these trying times. The police do an outstanding job protecting our communities, but, Dafna points out, police are called once something happens. An effective security apparatus would be there to make certain that the event that requires police attention does not occur in the first place.
Yehuda and his wife, Pam, have begun the final preparations to open a business just over the Nassau County/Queens border that will train people on handling guns for defensive purposes and to facilitate the gun-licensing process for those who are interested.
To Alex Wercberger, the Jewish-community liaison to the Nassau County Police Department, it is important to allow our police forces to do their job without interference. At the same time, he does not see any contradiction in encouraging our schools and shuls to have 24-hour armed security, and indeed more than several of our institutions have exactly that. “There is no question that every school should certainly have around-the-clock armed protection,” he said.
And the reality after a cursory check is that many do have exactly that. One of the officials we spoke with about the matter last week told us about a yeshiva in Queens that recently switched from a minimal security presence at the school entrance to round-the-clock armed service to make certain that everything remains orderly and safe in the school.
Obviously it would be imprudent to identify a list of institutions that currently feature or that have recently retained the services of armed guards to protect their schools, shuls, or businesses, but rest assured it is more than just a few.
Owning a gun and being able to handle it responsibly may sound like a romanticized version of the reality inspired by books and movies. Needless to say, it is an awesome and heavy responsibility that, while important, may not be for everyone. For the most part, people with children at home are reluctant to even entertain the idea of gun ownership. This, however, needs to be weighed against the ability to protect one’s family in case of emergency.
The reality in Israel is that if you are in a public place—whether a supermarket, a shul, or even a restaurant—there are going to be several people present who are carrying weapons. Two weeks ago on Shabbos, I davened in the morning at the Tzemach Tzedek Shul in the Old City. This is not a shul composed of military veterans or even active-duty soldiers. But on this particular Shabbos morning I noticed a nondescript young man in back of the shul in a white shirt, black suit, and yeshivish hat—and a submachine gun strung over his shoulder.
This contrasted for me the tragic reality of what occurred in Har Nof just a few weeks ago when Arab terrorists attacked a shul, massacring four unassuming men who were standing in fervent prayer. The shul in Har Nof was the kind of place where men davened who did not, as a matter of course, carry weapons. Unfortunately, there was no one there to respond properly to the terrorist onslaught. Today, as a global community, we are in a position where we at least have to start thinking about options that provide us with the resources to defend our families.
It is imperative that these efforts take place in cooperation with local police departments. We are not interested in doing police work; rather, we need to be the first line of defense if and when something occurs.
We live in a country where our president, as a matter of policy and conviction, refuses to acknowledge that there is an element within Islam that is prone to radicalization and whose leadership calls for violence. The president, even after the Paris events, has refused to utter the words “Islamic terrorism.” He and his subordinates have said that anyone who indulges in the type of violence we have seen is not Islamic so therefore there is no such thing as Islamic terror. But that is simply not true. A commitment to a form of Islam is the common thread that runs through all these terror attacks from 9/11 to Israel to last week in Paris. But President Obama steadfastly refuses to acknowledge that reality.
On top of that, the administration’s bungling reached new heights on Sunday when the White House refused participation by any high-ranking administration officials at the Paris march that featured over three million participants, including over 40 world leaders. The next day, Monday, Mr. Obama met with last year’s NBA champions, the San Antonio Spurs. Had he been in Paris, he might not have been able to make that meeting.
The idea of sending Attorney General Eric Holder to Paris—he had no time to attend the rally—is a message sent by Mr. Obama in and of itself. The president sent Holder because he is the chief law-enforcement officer of the U.S., and Obama sees these attacks as merely the perpetration of criminal acts that possibly need to be prosecuted in court. Every other civilized county sees it as part of an international terrorist scourge. Not our president.
We do not want to be and cannot afford to be sitting ducks, so to speak. To that end, the Dafnas plan to open what they’re calling a “gun spa” this coming spring. This is not the old Wild West, but it may be something new that we have to approach with wide eyes and open minds. Things have changed; we need to protect our families and communities, and there are effective ways to achieve those objectives.
The notion of guns and Jews is an oxymoron of sorts, but out here that is something that world events may have chipped away at sufficiently to create change. The terrorists repeat consistently that they intend to launch more Paris-like assaults both in Europe and the U.S. Since 9/11, U.S. law enforcement has a remarkable record when it comes to making sure there are no repeat terror attacks. It is most likely that, with G‑d’s help, nothing will happen here. But there is also nothing wrong with being ready, just in case.
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