Florida – A New York City rabbi who thinks synagogues should be mazel-tough when it comes to security during holy days like Sunday’s Yom Kippur has taken matters into his own hands, offering his own brand of anti-terrorist training to clergy.
However most local Jewish leaders said there are better ways to ensure safety than pistol-packing rabbis. Law enforcement doesn’t like it, either.
New York Rabbi Gary Moskowitz offers weapons and physical training to rabbis and instructors for $1,000, claiming Jewish houses of faith could be terrorist targets.
Rabbi Samuel Cywiak at St. Augustine’s First Congregation Sons of Israel said he knows all about survival after making it through Nazi prison camps in World War II.
“To be prepared is good,” said Cywiak, the only rabbi interviewed locally to give a thumbs-up to such anti-terrorist training.
“If it happens in New York and in other places, why not in the South?” the 90-year-old rabbi said Thursday. . “Why should we have victims if we can avoid it? If they know that we are armed, they will not come.”
New York Rabbis Training
However, a terse e-mail statement from Jacksonville Undersheriff Frank Mackesy on Moskowitz’s program said the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t “encourage anyone to take the law into their own hands. Be aware of your surroundings and contact the police.”
As well, Jacksonville Rabbi Martin Sandberg at Beth Shalom Congregation said training rabbis to use weapons to fight off intruders may be “pushing it too far” and “more dangerous than preventative” because a weapon could kill a bystander as easily as a terrorist.
“I would not like to see handguns kept in the synagogue,” he said. “Although police and FBI have given us suggestions on how to keep the synagogue secure, that is only locked doors, not working on arming themselves.”
Moskowitz is a former New York City police officer and president of the International Security Coalition of Clergy at the non-profit Tzedek Task Force on Counter Terrorism.
His group’s news release says there is a “clear and present danger emanating from extremist Muslim Jihads,” and rabbis must protect their congregations.
The rabbi joins other law enforcement veterans in offering a 100-hour combat shooting and apprehension program, and a more advanced 100-hour instructor’s course, each one costing $1,000. It trains congregation staff and rabbis in surveillance and screening, plus armed resistance and combat shooting, (as was reported first here on VIN News).
Northeast Florida had its own synagogue security issue in 1997, when Jacksonville Jewish Center member Harry Shapiro planted a bomb there to disrupt a speech by former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. The non-functional device wasn’t found until nine days after the speech and disarmed.
Rabbi David Gaffney was at the center in 1997 when the fake bomb was planted. Now head of the Conservative Synagogue of Fifth Avenue in New York City, he said more passive security is the way to protect worshippers. An added precaution for Sunday’s Yom Kippur services there is that all worshippers must sign up in advance with ID, he said.
“There are security personnel at the NYU Law School [worship services site], and they have to see that security person before they are admitted,” Gaffney said. “In life, everything is getting so angry and intense, which I find simply very disturbing. But I am not doing that [Moskowitz’s anti-terrorism course] at my age.”
Etz Chaim Synagogue Rabbi Nosson Kaiser said his Jacksonville staff takes security seriously. Their procedures are “designed and implemented in consultation with the FBI’s National Joint Terrorism Task Force, local law enforcement and private-sector security consultants.”
Armed security in a synagogue is a mistake that risks congregation members, added Rabbi Joshua Lief at Congregation Ahavath Chesed at 8727 San Jose Blvd.
“I would hate for members to miss out on the opportunity for their own spiritual enrichment because they are itching with their trigger finger to pull a gun on a would-be instigator,” Lief said. “Our local Sheriff’s Office does a good job of being aware of the needs of the Jewish community, patrolling and keeping our congregants safe. We have police officers out front on High Holy days.”
Beth Shalom has off-duty Jacksonville officers park outside on holy days, too, Sandberg noted.
“There is actually no way to stop a determined terrorist, but we can make ourselves a difficult target by having a policeman sit out front.”