Two car bombings in England were averted last month because people noticed something abnormal about the vehicles left on London’s streets.
Etzion Neuer, of the ADL’s New Jersey office, explains how to protect Jewish institutions at Cong. Keter Torah Monday. Josh Lipowsky
The cars had been packed full of explosives set to go off outside popular London pubs, but when smoke began pouring out of one, passersby reported the out-of-the-ordinary occurrence to the authorities.
Awareness is the No. 1 tool of prevention, said Etzion Neuer, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey office. Neuer spoke Monday night at a lecture and demonstration on security in the home and synagogue that was hosted by Teaneck’s Keter Torah synagogue. He and members of the Teaneck police and fire departments and representatives from the Bergen County Sheriff’s office told attendees that being aware of their surroundings is the best way to preserve their safety.
"Our No. 1 goal is to prevent an incident from happening," Neuer said. "Every institution has some risk. Our responsibility is to make sure our institutions are protected."
Security is a process, he said, and synagogue administrators should be especially aware of who is coming into their buildings and what is happening around them. If a car parked outside seems out of place, administrators should verify its reason for being there. You can just tap the window and ask if the driver needs help or directions, Neuer said. If the driver is actually a criminal, he or she is unlikely to initiate a confrontation in a public setting.
"You have to know your institution. What’s the norm?" Neuer said. "Don’t be afraid to knock on a window."
He noted that security cameras can help monitor the area, but someone must then scan the footage for something out of place. And, he said, the institution’s staff must learn that they cannot always be polite.
In buildings with locked doors that require guests to be buzzed in, legitimate visitors will sometimes hold the door open for someone behind them. Visitors should be discouraged from this practice, especially if the second person is carrying a package, Neuer said and even if it seems rude.
Making synagogue staff and visitors wear ID badges creates a standard for recognizing people who are out of place, he added, noting that monitoring who enters the building is an important part of maintaining security.
Israelis are notorious for rigorous security checks at El Al terminals, he said, pointing out that while some think the Israeli guards are engaging in racial profiling, they are instead profiling behavior. Community members should learn from this and watch the behavior of people in and around their institutions, he added.
"If something looks out of place, say something," Neuer said.
When a shul publicizes an event, even if it is just in a local newspaper, it is opening that event to the public, which may make it a target, Neuer continued. He recommended that synagogues hire added security for such events to help monitor who enters the building.
Many synagogues do hire extra security for the High Holy Days, but, Neuer cautioned, most incidents at shuls do not happen around that time.
"It’s your shul; you can control the access of people coming in," he said. "It’s your institution; don’t be shy."
John Garland of the Teaneck Police Department offered similar advice. Criminals operate according to what he described as a "crime triangle" of desire, knowledge, and opportunity.
"Burglars are predators of opportunity," he said. While there is nothing people can do to affect criminals’ desire to commit crime or limit the knowledge they need to do so, the average person can limit criminals’ opportunities by taking the proper precautions.
Your house should always look like someone is home, Garland said. Timers for the lights and other appliances can give that appearance, and leaving a car in the driveway when going on a vacation is also helpful. The stereotypical nosey neighbor can also be a blessing, he said. Alert neighbors are more likely to notice something out of the ordinary.
"There are always ongoing issues to be concerned about," said Teaneck Mayor Elie Katz, who had organized the event. "We can be pro-active instead of re-active."