Stopping by Synagogue on a Holiday Evening

By Juda Englemayer

As the Jewish high holidays ebb, aside from any spiritual uplifting it is supposed to have brought me, a wave of concern hit as I realized the new reality in America.  If you pass a synagogue during a time of prayer or gathering, you will be hard-pressed to find one without some police or security presence.  Lately, even more are beefing up their physical operations to include bollards, bullet resistant glass, cameras and a host of additional security features.  The rhetorical question is – why?

Before 9/11 flying was fairly easy — with only the flight to and from Israel requiring the extent of security we endure today.  There was a time when Simon and Garfunkel played Central Park in New York to more than 500,000 people, and in 1997, country singer Garth Brooks is said to have entertained to an estimated 980,000 fans in that very park.  Imagine if the police had to worry about what we worry about today?

Stephen Paddock killed 59 people and wounded more than 500 in attendance at the Route 91 Harvest festival, an outdoor concert in Las Vegas attended by some 25,000, and he did not have to get his bags checked at the venue.  The shooter took aim from some 350 feet away and did extensive damage.

For all of the Jersey Barriers installed in Times Square, Paddock’s act makes every building around Times Square or any major gathering area, a potential sniper perch. With the methods of security at doors, the metal detectors and many ways our various law enforcement agencies have developed methods to secure people, the terrorists, criminal and just deranged people out there will find another way.

We spend so much in technology to secure our identities from credit and financial fraud because the criminals keep finding new ways around the protections.  It is almost as if we deal with crime on an as needed basis.

Today, we will hear on the news from talking heads and security thought leaders how police in every region now are beefing up the outdoor events in their areas, as if they had not been doing so before this terrorist slaughtered the concert-goers yesterday.  Yet, the truth is, we can plan for everything, and the one thing we did not think about happens – then the blame game comes.  The Huffington Post ran a quick headline proclaiming that President Donald Trump offered condolences to the Las Vegas Shooting Victims…”  but, he did not mention guns.

Now it is Trump’s fault.  Had he mentioned guns, this never would have happened – right?

While law enforcement is generally ahead of the curve, the public has little idea what they do behind the scenes to ward off terror and havoc.  There are reasons we have not had another incident like 9/11 since then, and for that the public should be grateful and the media should be more informative and less precipitous.  Often it seems when we have an incident, media uses it as a rating draw; they bring on experts who collectively make the viewers feel even more vulnerable.

News looks at crime the wrong way.   We are reactive, and want to do all that we can in a brilliant public relations stunt to let the public know we are on it and taking care of the issue.  After Richard Rojas drove his car through Times Square killing one and injuring 22, the police announced that they would install more barriers, then the City erected an even more elaborate maze of cement blocks to prevent another drive through. Sadly, that does make the people walking along another random street in New York any safer from potential harm.

Still, the powers that be know this.  It is a costly public relations reaction to make the masses feel better; for if they do nothing, and something happens a second time in the same place, all faith in the system will collapse.

Security is tough today, as we all live on the edge of a knife.  Between the overseas terrorists, the domestic extremists, religious fanatics, unhinged or unhappy people, catastrophes can and will occur.  People need to know the truth, and people need to be prepared, but people also need to know that convenient political answers are not necessarily the right answers either, or even the truth.

Was this attack in Vegas about guns?  No, but it was facilitated with a gun so it is easy to say eliminate guns and we remove one way of killing.  Why not also marshal the self-driving car and the terror-by-vehicle that happens in Israel, Berlin, Barcelona, London and so on, can stop.  Take away knives so that bullied students in New York’s public schools cannot stab others.

There is so much we can do to take away the implements of death and destruction, but it will not stop the ideology of death and murder. The Chinese invented the fire lance in the 10th century and in 1364, the first recorded use of a firearm was documented.  There were plenty of murders before either date, and making more efficient ways to kill was the stimulus for these inventions in the first place.  So, who are we kidding?

My reflections to the response to the threat of violence at least in the Jewish communities lead me to realize that we have a long time to go before we all live in peace with no one seeking to harm another in the name of any G-d or religion, and where we have better predictive methods to help people with mental illnesses who may seek to harm others.  For now, we need to do more to teach people to be vigilant; to keep their eyes and ears open and to stop living in a fairy tale world that just does not exist.

For now, security is a way of life.  If bollards and planters need to be erected by houses of worship – do it.  If worshippers need to be taught evacuation and shelter-in-place procedures, teach them.  If concert goers need to make sure they know where the exits and understand active shooter procedures, that is just part of life.  We all need to realize our new reality, while we work toward a better one.  But let’s not just take easy way out and get on the banning bandwagon. Our news sources should be interested in helping, not fomenting fear.

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