Local synagogues to increase security after mass shooting

Updated: Oct. 29, 2018 at 6:27 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Local synagogues are seeing an increase in security after a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue left 11 people dead and several others injured.

Rabbi Michael Knopf of congregation Temple Beth-El and Rabbi Dovid Asher of Keneseth Beth Israel heard about the incident during services on Saturday and swiftly worked to calm their congregations and come up with plans going forward.

“We put the synagogue on lock down,” Knopf said. “For our Sunday morning religious school and activities at our school campus, we had triple the amount of security than we normally do and increased police presence as well.”

“We had a police officer here who told one of our volunteers and told him there was a synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh,” Asher said. “He then announced it to the congregation after services...it’s a hard time for the community.”

The local Jewish community is trying to make sense about what happened at the Tree of Life synagogue while also addressing their own security procedures.

Both Temple Beth-El and Keneseth Beth Israel have an armed police officer at most services and holidays.

Keneseth Beth Israel has a security committee they created around 2014 because of a rash of anti-Semitic incidents that happened in the area.

“We have a police officer now, who we have had every Saturday morning for the last few years,” Asher said. “It’s been growing, this concern about security. When I got here in 2011, there was no security committee and now it’s a major part of the synagogue. Funding is an issue to try and keep up with the threats."

Keneseth Beth Israel also has security cameras, volunteers who patrol the area and check in on different parts of the building during services and coordinate with local law enforcement.

They also permit parishioners to carry weapons if they have the permits to do so.

“Our policy, as advised by local law enforcement, was not to be a location that’s completely soft target without any fire arms at all but to get permission from our local security committee if you want to carry,” Asher said.

The people who are allowed to carry are trained and permitted to by the security committee.

Temple Beth-El also has security cameras and an armed officer during holidays and services.

“Security is an ongoing conversation here and we take it really seriously,” Knopf said. “We have to strive for a balance in ensuring we have adequate security but that we are also an open and welcoming congregation. We have armed security guards for most of our services, especially when we expect a large attendance. We have additional security procedures in place at our religious school campus.”

Both synagogues expect an increase in security following the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.

“I’d rather not discuss specifically what they are because I don’t want to give anyone the opportunity to pick them apart and analyze them and find the vulnerable points,” Knopf said. “But we did put some new ones in place immediately after the news Saturday.”

Both Knopf and Asher say their security measures have changed and increased over the last few years due to a changing climate in America and the rise of anti-antisemitism and anti-Semitic events.

“There has been a historic spike in antisemitic incidents around the country since January, 2017,” Knopf said. “Among the things that have changed in the past couple of years first, guns are more prevalent and more easily accessed. Dangerous people who want to get a hold of dangerous weapons have more capacity to do so and no amount of security procedures that we adopt is going to change that fact. Somebody who intends to do harm and is bent on doing harm and has access to the weapons to do harm, our security procedures are going to pail in comparison. Second, we have a political climate now in which at high-level people with hateful ideologies feel emboldened, feel like they’ve been given license to express, publicize, act on their hateful ideologies and there is not enough forceful condemnation of people with racial and religious animosity in our country."

The community has come out to support the local Jewish community by placing flowers and candles on the steps of the synagogues.

On Tuesday, Oct. 30, the entire community is invited to the JCC in Richmond to honor the victims of the Pittsburgh mass shooting.

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