Jeremy Yamin, the head of the Communal Safety Initiative.

Faith community gathers to learn how to protect houses of worship



Faith community gathers to learn how to protect houses of worship

Jeremy Yamin, the head of the Communal Safety Initiative.

On July 2, 2021, the day after Rabbi Shlomo Noginski was stabbed eight times outside the Chabad Shaloh House day school in Brighton, the Jewish community held a rally in the rain. One of the speakers was then-Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins.

According to Jeremy Yamin, the head of the Communal Safety Initiative at Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, Rollins pledged to “Really do everything in her power to prevent this kind of situation.”

Now the U.S. attorney for Boston, Rollins was a speaker at a different event May 2 – a summit for the interfaith community called “Contemporary Issues in Securing Your House of Worship,” sponsored by CJP.

“Unfortunately, there have been all sorts of events – Colleyville in January, Rabbi Noginski was stabbed last July in Boston,” said Yamin. “There have been a number of arsons and other incidents affecting the Jewish community.”

The attendees at the summit held in Canton numbered around 200 and included representatives of the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Canton Police Department.

“Definitely, there were most of the Jewish institutions we have been working with for several years,” Yamin said. “There were a lot of familiar faces there,” including “a number of different faith communities represented … reverends, ministers, some rabbis, a cantor – a good turnout of different faiths.”

One resource publicized by the conference was the grants that are available from the federal and state government. Last year, grants given to 57 Jewish institutions totaled $3.3 million. CJP grants, meanwhile, provided $700,000 to Jewish organizations last year to upgrade their physical security.
“A number of people from churches came up to us and said they learned about federal grants they hadn’t heard of before,” Yamin said.
In addition to physical security, the conference also stressed procedural security.

This means “the importance of training people, making sure people are engaged, educated, really empowered to make good decisions,” Yamin said. “I’ve seen misses over time. We have to continue to work to try and overcome those … Not all faith communities have longstanding relationships with law enforcement. Law enforcement can be very cautious, sometimes, in how to reach or interact with different faith communities.”

Asked about the tensions that have arisen over the issue of law enforcement in recent years, Yamin replied, “Sometimes you want to be a little bit subtle. We have worked with institutions that do not want to have a heavy law enforcement presence outside, they’ve found it to be off-putting for some of the congregants. Others prefer a plainclothes policeman or a security contractor. Others don’t want to have security at all. It’s important there should be institutional discussion on what it is they want.”

Another complexity in the security sphere has to do with Orthodox Jews who are prohibited from using technology on Shabbat. Some workarounds have been found, such as panic buttons.

“In an event of emergency, a rabbi could hit the button to protect and save a life,” Yamin said.

Yamin emphasized the importance of planning.

“A lot of it is about preparation,” he said. “If you don’t prepare, plan, and educate people, when you have a crisis or an incident, it could be much worse than it otherwise would be.”

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