Addressing security needs in an area where there is a large concentration of Jewish institutions has its own special challenges. Meeting the special security needs of remote or sprawling synagogue campuses poses other unique concerns.
At Temple Bat Yahm (TBY) in Newport Beach, “The Newtown tragedy in December 2012, spurred a group of devoted congregants, at the urging of our clergy, to create a task force, with board support, to review our security measures and implement improvements,” explained Jeff Menkes, security chair of the congregation.
Menkes related that the security team visited Hebrew Academy, Tarbut V’Torah and several area churches to review what steps they take to secure their institutions. He added, “Through a circuitous path from Los Angeles to D.C. and back to San Diego, we found a great team at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), who committed to working with us. We also reached out to and cultivated an excellent relationship with the Newport Beach Police Department (NBPD), who are very devoted to our protection.”
The DHS team made several visits to TBY before creating a detailed assessment of its vulnerabilities and threats in June 2013. According to Menkes, DHS and NBPD noted that TBY’s biggest challenge was the fact that the campus is large with many openings, few delaying measures and wooded slopes around two sides with obscured vision. Most vulnerable was the access directly into the center of the TBY campus from the parking lot.
“We learned good security planning optimally combines assets, people, and procedures,” Menkes said. “When an incident such as the recent Pittsburgh tragedy occurs, we review it to see what went wrong, if the same could occur to us and how we would respond.”
Using the DHS assessment, TBY created its own security plan in December 2013, which the congregation has followed and continues to implement. Here are its accomplishments, according to Menkes:
- “Construction of a new, secure, barrier entry through a grant from DHS, completed in 2016, which seals off the previously wide-open entrance to the campus. It is now the main entrance with electronic entry and left open only when an armed guard is present. Brion Jeannette, a well-known architect in the area, designed the structure, wall and doors between the original and a newer structure to be “well armored and aesthetically pleasing.”
- Installation of new and replacement fencing, supported by a grant obtained from the California Office of Emergency Services, completed in 2017. The new fencing around the preschool playground includes inside solid polycarbonate panels to obscure the view into the campus. New fencing also prevents entrance from the slopes around the two sides.
- Three Active Shooter Training exercises hosted for teachers and staff by the Newport Beach PD.
- Two NBPD SWAT Team exercises on the TBY campus (with ample warning to congregants) and a Shabbat safety lecture by NBPD detectives and SWAT.
- Hiring of two full-time armed guards.
- Arrangements with a third-party security and anti-terrorism firm, founded by an Israeli expert, to bring in additional security resources for the High Holy Days and special events.
- Improved quality and quantity of video surveillance system and software.
- Contract to install impact-resistant film and reinforce the frames inside several preschool windows, to obscure the view into the school.
“A design to remodel the front façade of the campus will create a beautiful patio space where the current front doors are, surrounded by solid barrier walls,” Menkes added. “We would like to add more bollards to be placed around the campus and exterior doors and also have a plan to add electronic access at all the entrances, like we have at the main entrance. We are hoping to obtain additional grants to offset costs.”
He concluded, “We maintain excellent rapport with the Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center (OCIAC), a ‘fusion center’ for intelligence on potential terrorist threats from a team of combined federal, state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies. OCIAC, run by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, understands well the anti-Semitic threats facing Jewish institutions. It offers a regimen of training and workshops for faith-based institutions that our team members attend. OCIAC regularly visits TBY to review the changes we are making to secure our campus. At a December 2018 workshop, OCIAC recognized TBY as being a forward-thinking faith-based organization for security. We also hosted a good-will visit by the associate director of the Department of Homeland Security, who was pleased to review our progress.”
Meanwhile, Temple Beth Tikvah (TBT) in Fullerton has spent several months evaluating security options while keeping the congregation “open and inviting,” in the words of its administrator, Erica Lambert. The synagogue has unique needs because of its location in a residential area up on a hill next to a huge gully and its configuration of two large facilities with multiple levels, according to its security chair, Lisa Barbarick.
Describing herself as “passionate about self-defense,” Barbarick has worked at American Martial Arts Academy for 17 years, gotten security clearance for Rockwell and been part of a military family. She has tried to make sure that the police department and TBT’s neighbors know what is going on at the synagogue at all times and are alert to any unusual activity. The police have an added presence when there are special events or large groups, and everyone operates on the principle of “see something/say something,” Barbarick said.
“On our end, we keep congregants aware of security dynamics and emphasize preparation,” Barbarick said. “Most congregants have not been exposed to security measures before, but now we lock doors, use security cameras and telecommunications systems and screen people at the main entrance.”
While preschool and after-school programs have been a safety priority, TBT is assessing the need for adding measures to its security mix. The security team is looking into a Department of Homeland Security grant and adding gates.
“Anti-Semitism is out there, and we need to be prepared,” Barbaric concluded. “Security is a more intricate part of our way of life, and it keeps people safe in our house of worship.”
ILENE SCHNIEDER IS A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO JLIFE MAGAZINE.