On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur this year at Temple Emanu-El, a landmark Reform synagogue near Manhattan’s Central Park, fliers were placed on every seat offering instructions on what to do in the event of an attack during one of the High Holiday services. “If running from the threat is not an option,” the fliers read, “crouch down between the pews or hide behind a pillar. Make yourself as small of a target as possible. Remain quiet and still.” A rise in antisemitic incidents has prompted Jewish institutions across the U.S. to focus on boosting security measures and protocols. FBI hate crime statistics show that reported incidents in churches, synagogues, temples and mosques increased by 34.8 percent between 2014 and 2018. In July, before the 10th anniversary of the attack on a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin that left seven dead and three injured, the Biden administration established the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council to help guide the administration’s efforts to address violent attacks on faith institutions. The council, which comprises 25 faith leaders and law enforcement experts, assembled for the first time last month, reports Religion News Service.
The group’s members hail from a variety of faith communities, including the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Jewish Orthodox Union, the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the All Dulles Area Muslim Society. Local police departments, the InfraGard National Members Alliance and the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters are represented. Besides meeting the safety concerns of houses of worship, the group will be enlisted to build trust in the Homeland Security Department and ensure that the help provided will be equitable and fair. Rabbi Jonah Pesner of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and a council member, attributes the increase in violence targeting houses of worship and other public spaces to the spread of white-supremacist “conspiracy lies,” combined with easily accessible firearms. Pesner said, “We have to remember that law enforcement is a problematic entity for some communities of color … or in some cases may have actually been a threat. Kiran Kaur Gill, chair of the DHS council, said that for faith communities, the balance between securing their spaces and being welcoming can be difficult to navigate. “There’s sort of this inherent tension between securing our houses of worship, and then following the fundamental tenets of our faith, which include being open and allowing anyone from any background to come in,” she said. Since 2016, DHS has provided nonprofits with funding for security measures. Next year, the program’s proposed funding is $360 million, a 44 percent increase.