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LI Jewish institutions consider armed guards, increased security

One rabbi says concerns will be addressed after the Pittsburgh attack raised fears, but "we can't let fear take hold of us."

Long Island synagogues and other Jewish institutions on Sunday started to consider adding armed guards and taking other security measures in the wake of the deadly Pittsburgh shooting that killed 11 worshippers and injured six on Saturday.

The shooting on Saturday at the Tree of Life Synagogue, which the Anti-Defamation League described as the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history, was a watershed moment that would lead to tighter security measures at Jewish institutions, said Steven Markowitz, chairman of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove.

What's happening in the aftermath of the shooting will likely mirror what has happened in Europe, where synagogues are locked and police are stationed outside Jewish buildings and businesses, Markowitz said.

"I never thought we’d have to deal with that here," he said. "That all changed yesterday. We’re in a new era."

Rabbis from the Five Towns area are to meet with Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and lawmakers on Tuesday night about safety concerns, state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said Sunday.

Suffolk Chief of Department Stuart Cameron said police in that county also would be reaching out to Jewish leaders about security.

"We'll do as many meetings as it takes," he said. "This type of security is more like a marathon than a sprint."

At Temple Or Elohim in Jericho, two armed security guards will be present during services and temple events until further notice, according to a note to congregants from president Michael Wilner and cantor David Katz. All classroom doors will remain shut and locked during classes, the message stated. 

Rob Panzer, president of Temple Israel of Great Neck, said the synagogue has security guards present during Shabbat morning services, but the Pittsburgh attack has prompted officials to reevaluate their security measures.

“We have significant security protocols in place, but we’ll continue to look at them,” Panzer said.

Rabbi Judy Cohen-Rosenberg of the Community Reform Temple in Westbury said her synagogue is also considering stepping up its security.

“Of course, we have concerns and are addressing them the best way we can,” Cohen-Rosenberg said. “Some people had great concerns but I told them we can’t let fear take hold of us.”

Kaminsky said security for schools and religious institutions "will be a priority in Albany next year." But, he added, "we cannot live in a completely security-hardened world. Problems go beyond hardening physical infrastructure," he said.

While the NYPD cautioned there was no credible threat to New York City, the department deployed heavy weapons teams, including the Critical Response Command and the Strategic Response TeamGroup, police said on Sunday morning.

"These officers who are equipped with heavy weapons have been deployed to locations throughout the city," NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan said on Saturday. "In addition, NYPD officers in every precinct throughout the city are visiting sensitive locations to ensure the safety of all New Yorkers. Thousands of officers, many of them active-shooter trained, are vigilant and patrolling our city."

President Donald Trump on Saturday suggested that an armed security guard could have prevented the shooting. Democrats called for a renewed debate on gun control.

The Tree of Life shooting suspect, Robert Gregory Bowers, expressed hatred of Jews during the rampage and told officers afterward that he wanted all Jews to die, according to charging documents.

Robert Zimmerman, past president of the Long Island American Jewish Congress and a Democratic National Committeeman, said that an increase in anti-Semitic incidents, as tracked by the Anti-Defamation League, has increased security concerns over the past two years.

"All of us who play a role in Jewish leadership constantly talk about security," he said. "The concerns are always there around us."

But, he said, "the answer is not to give out more guns. The answer is found in blocking easy access to guns, increasing mental health access, and once and for all, stopping divisive hateful rhetoric that has become commonplace."

The state in June announced $2.1 million for security upgrades at 45 Jewish schools and day care centers after a series of bomb threats on Long Island last year. The money would reimburse security upgrades for things like panic buttons, added security cameras and strengthened windows and doors, Kaminsky said.

The Friedberg Jewish Community Center in Oceanside received a bomb threat in January that forced the evacuation of the building, including infants in cribs and the elderly.

"It touches you whenever there’s any hate, or anti-Semitic hate," executive director Joni Center said. "It’s chilling and it hits home."

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