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Jewish Leaders Discuss Safety

Fearing anti-Semitic attacks during High Holy Days, officials seek ways to protect facilities.

September 07, 2006|Louis Sahagun | Times Staff Writer

Concerned for the safety of their congregants during High Holy Days, more than 60 Jewish security chiefs gathered at the Anti-Defamation League's headquarters Wednesday to learn how to, as one of them put it, "harden our targets."

It was the second such meeting sponsored this year by the ADL, which normally hosts just one annually.

"With the situation in Israel becoming inflammatory this summer, we felt another security briefing was justified," ADL regional director Amanda Susskind said. "We've seen a spike in anti-Semitic incidents around the world."

Those incidents included the July shootings at a Seattle Jewish center that killed one woman.

Featured speakers included Warren T. Bramford, FBI special agent in charge of counter-terrorism; Matt Wolman, a Los Angeles Police Department counter-terrorism community information specialist; and Morris Casuto, ADL regional director in San Diego.

Although the law enforcement specialists stressed that there were no specific credible terrorist threats facing Southern California or its hundreds of synagogues, Casuto urged those in attendance to be more proactive and vigilant.

"What Seattle taught us is that there are people living under the radar screens who are easily moved to anger and possible violence," Casuto said. "So prudence dictates that we become far more knowledgeable about security than we have been in the past or want to in the present."

Among those in attendance was Marvin Goldsmith, chief of safety at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills. He said that although his synagogue already has a state-of-the-art security system, "for High Holy Days, we're adding more security personnel and physical barriers."

"And this is the first year I can recall," added Goldsmith, "when we are restricting access to the sanctuary during High Holy Days to congregants holding special tickets."

Sitting nearby and taking copious notes was Lawrence Schwartz, High Holiday chairman at Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge.

"The main thing I've learned today is that there are no credible threats, which eases the situation a bit," he said. "But it doesn't lower the need to be alert."

In July, California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer issued a report showing that although hate crimes in the state declined for the fourth consecutive year, there was virtually no change in the number of anti-Jewish hate crimes: 142 in 2004 compared with 141 in 2005.

Jews continue to be the most frequently targeted religious group in the state, accounting for nearly 69% of all religiously motivated hate crimes, he said.

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