Synagogues have had to increase security in recent years due to a rise in anti-Semitic violence.
The morning before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, I received a phone notification cautioning the Jewish community to be safe and aware during the high holiday season and urging synagogues to utilize any means necessary, including armed guards, to protect their congregations. My immediate reaction was surprise, but this very quickly turned into a simmering sort of rage, as I was once again reminded that the Jewish community has to take precautions that many other communities don’t. The high holiday season is about coming together and reflecting. It has nothing to do with violence or learning to protect ourselves against it. But over the last decade, it has become more and more apparent that there is much to fear with the number of anti-Semetic crimes rising exponentially over the last five years, shifting the focus of synagogues and congregations towards protection rather than celebration.
There are some Rabbi’s and members of the Jewish community who don’t see the notions of security and celebration as opposing, but rather see the increased attention being given to safety as an extension of the sacred nature of prayer and community. I decided to see what the rest of my family thought about this issue. My cousin from Wisconsin told me that she had secretly gone to her synagogue to scope out seats that were closest to the exits so that she would feel safer during Kol Nidray. My dad, when I told him I would be going to a new synagogue for this year’s Yom Kippur services, immediately asked me to let him know if there were police officers present.
I took a friend of mine from TU to high holiday services this year, as she wanted to experience something different than what she grew up with. She was extremely tense, and I figured it was because of the unfamiliarity of the whole situation, but she let out a huge sigh once she saw two armed guards in the foyer of the synagogue. She apologized profusely, reassuring me that she did truly want to be there and that she was invested in participating in the service to her fullest capabilities, but she honestly was terrified of being attacked or hurt until she saw the presence of weapons.
Personally, I see the high holidays as a time that should be solely devoted to reflection and coming together, so the fact that there is now this looming threat of an attack on our places of worship is not only extremely distracting and scary, but it’s also infuriating. I don’t want to have to call my family back in Florida and tell them the name and address of the specific synagogue I’m attending as a precautionary measure. I don’t want to have to pay extra attention to the news during our most sacred time of year because I know that there’s a strong chance that the consistent rise in anti-Semitism is likely to continue. I want my friends and family to be able to feel safe in their decisions, congregations and identities, but, sadly, that is not the world we live in, so I expect that this ironic association between peace and violence will continue for the foreseeable future.