As synagogues nationwide organize security for the upcoming Jewish High Holy Days, concerned members of local congregations attended a briefing Tuesday night led by federal law enforcement officials about potential terrorist threats.
Security experts from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI led the session, which was closed to the public and held at Midway Jewish Center in Syosset. It came on the heels of the shooting in a Wisconsin Sikh temple that killed seven, including the gunman.
"Security is a very big concern for us" said Josh Hearshen, 33, of Syosset, a rabbi at Midway. "We're very careful to make sure these institutions are free to practice their religions the way they want to."
Though Sunday's shooting sparked concerns among the Jewish community, Reps. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) and Peter King (R-Seaford) said the timing was coincidental. They had planned the briefing months ago and sent out invitations to Long Island synagogues weeks ago. About 55 people attended.
Arthur Katz, chairman of the Long Island Jewish Community Relations Council, said he's glad the briefing was organized, as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur take place next month.
"As the High Holidays approach, it's good to know what synagogues need to do to increase security and safety and, by so doing, hopefully dissuade anyone from doing anything in our synagogues," said Katz said.
Israel said he was motivated to hold the session after reading a classified document about the increasing threat to religious institutions, particularly synagogues, in the United States.
"It's always better to be prepared than panic," Israel said.
Donna Bartolomeo of Roslyn Heights agreed that security is a big concern for local synagogues. Bartolomeo, a member of the security committee at Temple Beth Sholom, said her temple, like others around the country, had received a $7,500 federal grant from a $19 million pool of money targeted to help nonprofits purchase security equipment and pay for training.
Nassau police Deputy Insp. Joe Magrane attended the session, and said county officials have been working with religious institutions to increase safety, including conducting constant marked and unmarked patrols, and sharing information with local, state and federal law enforcement officials.
"If you can't be safe here, where you worship," asked Magrane, "where can you be safe?"
Above all, Magrane said he hoped that religious leaders and community members will feel comfortable sharing information about potential security threats and know with whom to share the information.
"Everyone needs to let us know when something's out of place in their community, and not feel foolish for doing so," he said.