Paul Goldenberg specializes in security for the Jewish community.
A Jersey boy from Essex County and a former head of the hate crimes division of the New Jersey state attorney general’s office, he has an extensive background in security; “I oversee the homeland security initiative for the Jewish Federations of North America,” among many other such roles, he said.
He is also the head of the Secure Community Network, which provides advice and support to Jewish institutions across the country.
On a phone call from Brussels on Monday, he talked about having flown to Paris last Friday morning, “and a couple of kilometers from the airport, just as I flew in, the police were having a gun battle with the terrorists” who carried out the massacre in the offices of Charlie Hebdo. He was not there because of that attack, but because he works with the CRIF – the Council of French Jewish Institutions – and the SPCJ, the organization that oversees security for Jewish organizations across France. “I have worked for years as an adviser to governments and Jewish communities, because of the rise of extremism and terrorism,” he said.
And extremism and terrorism are on the rise.
Early this week, Mr. Goldenberg talked to hundreds of Jewish communal leaders and staffers on a conference call. Because “I was on the ground with them” – the stricken French Jewish community – “and the American Jewish community wanted an update about what happened, and advice on what they should be doing.”
Here is some of his advice.
First, he defined the challenge. We – members of the American Jewish community – must figure out how to achieve and maintain a finely calibrated balance between openness and self-defense. The goal, Mr. Goldenberg said, is to figure out “how to remain open for business, and at the same time ensure that your congregations are secure.”
That balance will not be the same for us as it is for Europeans or Israelis, or, for that matter, Jews anyplace else in the world. Each place is different..
Here, “one of the things we don’t want to happen is to have our Jewish schools the way they are in France. Getting there is like going through a TSA check.
“We don’t want to build walls. We don’t want barbed wire around our Jewish institutions. We want to make sure that they’re still welcoming. That’s who we are.”
On the other hand, we must be realistic. “If anyone is planning an attack on our institutions, we don’t want them to think that they are welcome.”
We do need upgraded security technologies – cameras, for example – “but I believe that technology alone will not save lives.
“The human dimension is important – in fact, it is more important today than ever.
“If the Jewish community wants to be secure, this is what it – Jewish professionals, administrators, educators, rabbis – have to do:
“The real focus should be on training and testing your plans. And if you don’t have a plan, you have to develop one.
“One of the most useful resources is tabletop exercises,” he continued. A tabletop exercise is a chance for a group of people – often sitting around a table, so the name’s not a mystery – to figure out what they would do in various hypothetical situations, often based on real-life disasters, natural or man-made. Participants role-play, imagining themselves with ever-shifting responsibilities, skills, and limitations.
“You don’t want not to know how to respond when an armed intruder already is in your building,” Mr. Goldenberg said. “You want to tabletop your response. That means running through different scenarios – fire bombing, a fire, an active shooter in your building – and ensure that when you are sitting across the table with your colleagues or your staff, everyone knows what their responsibilities should be during that catastrophic event.”
And everybody must be included. “That is across the board,” he said. “I don’t care if it is a teacher, the receptionist, or the person responsible for cutting the lawn. Everybody must participate.
“Tabletop exercises are critical to the safety and security of Jewish institutions.”
Next, he said, there should be training in security awareness – how to respond if there is an active shooter.
“Technology is critical,” he said. “Training is critical. We really want to focus on it.
“Unfortunately, in 2015 the paradigm has changed. The threats to the American and diaspora Jewish community are different. We had been concerned about lone wolves – people who are inspired by what they see or read. Now, we have more established terrorist hate groups, such as ISIS and Al Qaeda, looking to Jewish institutions.
“Not Israeli embassies or consulates, but Jewish institutions, here and abroad. They want to attack Jewish people within our houses of worship, our schools. They are really seeking to disrupt and terrorize us, and they really feel that’s the way to do it.
“So we have to build capacity with local police, to ensure that we are working closely with them. Do the local police have the blueprints to our synagogues and our schools? When they respond, will they know how to reach our children at school? Do they know where our children are?
“Administrators who are responsible for Jewish institutions – large, medium, or small – all need to take a leadership role in this effort. If anything happens within their institutions, their constituencies will be looking to them, and will see what they did or didn’t do.”
Yes, Mr. Goldenberg continued, “it is terrifying.” But, he said, his “mantra is that no matter how terrifying, we have to continue going to our shuls, to our community centers, to our schools. We have to continue with our lives. If we don’t, those who have sought to hurt or harm us have accomplished their goals.”
The United States is not Europe, he said. “I know of no imminent or specific threats to the American Jewish communities. And as we watch events unfold abroad, or even if we should see attacks here in this country, we must continue to go back to our synagogues, our JCCs, our federations. We must go back to school, back to work, back to prayer.”
He urges Jewish communal leaders to go to the SCN website, scnus.org. It is nonprofit, free, never closes, and provides open-source training.