The Jewish Federation & Foundation of Rockland County is taking a central role in upgrading security for the county’s Jewish community. With the support of the UJA-Federation of Greater New York and the Jewish Federations of North America, the Rockland federation has launched the Rockland County Security Initiative and hired Ethan Erlich, a retired New York City police department detective, as its first director.
Mr. Erlich’s biggest task: Helping Jewish institutions upgrade their security.
Mitch Silber, who runs the New York Community Security Initiative, which UJA-Federation New York launched in 2019, explained the challenge for Jewish institutions like this: “Assess where you are in security and figure out a way to improve it. Are you at 5 out 100 or 95 out of 100? There are improvements that can be made.”
He was speaking at a press conference announcing the initiative last week.
“What we really want to do is create sort of an Iron Dome of protection from Monsey to Montauk, to protect Jewish communities all throughout this area of New York State,” Mr. Silber said. “So I’m really glad to be in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Rockland.”
Mr. Erlich will work under Mr. Silber’s direction, part of the Rockland county’s federation’s cooperation with its downstate counterpart, which also includes significant grants. The project also is a recipient of the first grant from the new LiveSecure program of the Jewish Federations of North America.
On JFNA’s website, the LiveSecure page highlights Monsey — where in December 2019 a man invaded a rabbi’s Chanukah party and stabbed several people with a machete; one of the victims, Josef Neumann, died of his wounds several months later — as part of a litany of murderous American antisemitic attacks. That list begins with the October 2018 massacre in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, which took 11 lives, and also includes the April 2019 fatal shooting at the Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, which also wounded three people, and the armed hostage-taking at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, in January, 2022.
JFNA raised $54 million for LiveSecure. Its grants are given on a one-for-two basis, matching $50 for every $100 raised by the local federation.
“Our Jewish community is unique,” Ari Rosenblum, the federation’s CEO, said at the press conference. With “over 105,000 community members out of a total Rockland population of over 330,000, this is something like the highest density of any Jewish community in the United States.” All told, the community boasts “several hundred institutions, including schools, synagogues, camps, and community centers,” Mr. Rosenblum said.
Most of those institutions are charedi Orthodox — and generally not connected to the Jewish federation until now. That is in contrast to the federation’s long-standing ties to the Rockland County Board of Rabbis, which represents the county’s Reform and Conservative synagogues. The Board of Rabbis was the first organization in the county informed and updated about this initiative from its conception in early 2022. (The disconnect between the Jewish federation and portions of the charedi community was highlighted when Joseph Gluck, who had stopped the Monsey assailant before he killed more people, refused a $20,000 award from the federation and the Anti-Defamation League for his heroism. He said that he could not take money from Zionist organizations, citing a ruling by his rabbi, a leading activist with the Neturei Karta anti-Zionist charedi group.)
To help ease the way in charedi circles, the initiative is working with Rabbi Shragi Greenbaum, who directs the Rockland County regional office of Agudath Israel, the leading American charedi umbrella organization.
Mr. Rosenblum praised Mr. Erlich’s experience, saying he “served for 21 years in the NYPD, including over 11 years as a senior team member in the Emergency Services Unit. He has responded to emergencies at every scale, and has top-level training and experiences in special weapons and tactics, active shooter response, dignitary protection, sites security surveillance, counter surveillance, WMD, suicide bomber detection and prevention, and more.”
Rockland’s county executive, Ed Day, also spoke at the press conference, promising that “any of the resources necessary to our law enforcement personnel from county government will find their way there, in order to assist in this effort. We are 100% behind this effort.”
Captain Tony DeColyse of the Rockland County sheriff’s office said, “These rising incidents of antisemitism have been definitely a cause for concern. In law enforcement, we have ramped up all the necessary initiatives we need to and the protocols that we need to introduce to make sure that we keep the community safe.”
“If you see small minor incidents which take place, which are indicators of hate, do not hesitate to bring it up,” Captain DeColyse urged. “Our D.A. over here” — he pointed to Rockland County District Attorney Tom Walsh — “will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. We have no misgivings about that.”
Mr. Rosenblum said in a later interview that he and Mr. Ehrlich have begun setting up meetings with local law enforcement, as well as walkthrough assessments with local Jewish institutions.
“Last week, on Tuesday, Ethan and I were at one of the largest, if not the largest, charedi institution in the entire county, talking with them,” Mr. Rosenblum said. “It’s a massive structure with thousands and thousands of people on a busy day. And the following day, we were at one of the largest camps in eastern Rockland that’s organized and run by a non-Orthodox denomination and talking with them about everything they’ve done to enhance security.
“Some of these organizations are extraordinarily well organized and have availed themselves of nonprofit security grants and have got good systems in place. Maybe they just want a fresh set of eyes.
“Others really are just at a starting point, where they know that they need to secure the institution but they don’t know where to start, or they have a vague idea,” Mr. Rosenblum continued. “So they’re reaching out to us. We’re going to triage what their needs are.”
Those needs could include the detailed formal vulnerability assessment required for applications for a federal Homeland Security grant, or a more informal assessment of immediate changes that could be made to improve security, he said.
Mr. Rosenblum said the security initiative is setting up training for the community on such topics as responding to active shooters or emergency “stop the bleed” medical responses.
Beyond securing the buildings of Jewish institutions, he continued, “We’re also thinking, what other vulnerabilities does this community have that we need to be pay attention to, whether it’s a commercial venue or a street or anywhere else. These are not easy places to secure, but we want to talk about those vulnerabilities and address them along with law enforcement if we can.”
Additionally, he hopes to share the federation’s growing security expertise with “other vulnerable communities we’ve worked with in the past.”
Mr. Rosenblum said that Jewish institutions can set up a meeting with Mr. Ehrlich through the red “security inquiries” button on the federation’s JewishRockland.org home page.
“Every Jew in our community deserves to live a life where they’re secure in their shuls and schools and camps, on their streets, and in their homes,” he said.” And whatever we can do to enhance that level of security we’re going to do for all of them.”