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U.S. News

Synagogues Tighten Security As Antisemitism & Mass Shootings Rise

By Belal Awad · July 30, 2023

Security measures have become more commonplace at synogogues since the 2018 Tree of Life shooting.  Governor Tom Wolf's Office/Wikimedia Commons

In the wake of increasing anti-Semitic incidents across the United States, Jewish communities are taking strong measures to ensure their safety. Security equipment and survival training have become common practice at synagogues across the country.

Jeff Finkelstein, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, told Sky News of his concern over the rise in anti-Semitism, calling it “one of the oldest forms of hatred.” He said this ancient brand of bigotry has resurfaced in an especially horrific way amid a global increase in various forms of hatred targeting many races, cultures and religions.

Finkelstein noted the 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue attack that shook the community of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was the most deadly antisemitic attack in U.S. history. The mass shooting resulted in the deaths of 11 people with six others injured, leaving a cloud of vulnerability over the close-knit congregation.

Tree of Life has adopted a series of strict security measures in the sad aftermath of the brutal attack. Worshipers now are now greeted by security cameras, police alarms, and armed guards as the enter the self-described progressive synagogue that was founded by Jewish immigrants in 1864 in downtown Pittsburgh. Toddlers in the synagogue’s garden are watched carefully by security staff equipped with devices that can call in a SWAT team with the press of a button.

Rabbi Dan Fellman of nearby Temple Sinai Synagogue granted the necessity of these measures, despite his discomfort with them. Fellman said, in an odd way, he’s grateful to be living in a time when law official and government see it as their duty to protect everyone, including Jews, noting that it was not so long ago that Jewish communities were not protected, and government-sanctioned brutalities such as 1938’s Kristallnacht could take place. Reflecting on the Tree of Life massacre, Rabbi Fellman said, “In 2018 when the attack occurred, police went running in to save the lives of Jews. Throughout Jewish history, that never happened.”

The Anti-Defamation League, an organization that tracks anti-semitic hate crimes, reported a record number of attacks against America’s Jewish community last year. The data showed an alarming increase of over 30% in incidents of harassment, vandalism, and physical assault.

Maggie Feinstein, a community counsellor in Squirrel Hill, believes anti-Semitism when people need a scapegoat for society’s ills. “A lot of anti-Semitism comes from somebody needing to find somebody to blame,” she said

Light Wave commentary

The tragic story of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue is a reminder of how we must all remain vigilant in combatting hate. Jews have endured a long history of prejudice and adversity. It is sobering to think that the most deadly antisemitic attack in U.S. history took place only six years ago in the quiet Pennsylvania community of Squirrel Hill. The deadly event lingers in our minds as it challenges us to always do all we can to rid our society, and ourselves, of hate.