Jewish Federations of North America |

Making Sure All Jews Live Secure

LiveSecure, an ambitious new initiative launched by the Jewish Federations of North America, is a direct response to growing antisemitic threats and the need for Jewish communities to be better protected

Ted Merwin
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JFNA's Secure Community Network command center in Chicago
JFNA's Secure Community Network command center in ChicagoCredit: SCN
Ted Merwin
Promoted Content

On August 10, 1999, just two years before the September 11th attacks, a shooter with a semi-automatic weapon fired 70 bullets at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles, where 250 children were playing outdoors. He injured a 5-year-old, two 6-year-olds, a teenager and a 68-year-old receptionist, before fleeing and murdering a postal worker in a racist fit. The killer, a white supremacist, said it was “a wake-up call for Americans to kill Jews.”

Julie Platt, who lived near the Center, said the incident changed her fundamental views on the Jewish community’s security needs. “We’ve made amazing strides, but I’m sad to say that in the 22 years since that incident, the trouble for the Jewish community hasn’t abated,” Platt said at the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in October.

Of the 146 Jewish communities in North America that have Federations, just 45 have comprehensive security programs led by a professional security director. All that is set to change thanks to a new $54 million Federation initiative called LiveSecure, an ambitious plan that aims to create seamless security coverage over America’s Jewish communal infrastructure. When all is said and done, said Platt, who chairs the LiveSecure initiative in addition to her role as National Campaign Chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, “we will more than triple the current number of communities with comprehensive community security initiatives.” 

The 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was the worst antisemitic attack in US historyCredit: Wikimedia, courtesy of JFNA

Monitoring threats in real time

In a nondescript office building in Chicago sits the North American Jewish community’s newest, most potent defender against those who seek to harm Jewish people and institutions. The command center for the Secure Community Network (SCN), the organization founded by Jewish Federations in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, features a 16-foot video wall that broadcasts a constantly updated map of the continent with colored dots that indicate incidents of concern – everything from fires and water main breaks to active shooter episodes in and around Jewish “assets,” or institutions.

Meanwhile, a team of specially trained analysts are working around the clock, monitoring reports from local, state, and federal law enforcements and scouring postings on social media and the Web, along with possible criminal records, that are linked to individuals of concern. SCN developed this unique set of tools, known as RAIN (Realtime Actionable Intelligence Network), specifically to address the complex and dynamic threats facing the Jewish community.
While SCN has grown exponentially to meet the ever-increasing threats, augmenting the number of security programs from 22 to 45 since July 2018, it is poised to take an even greater leap forward in the next few years with the Jewish Federations of North America’s implementation of LiveSecure. The goal of LiveSecure, which is set to roll out over a three-year period, is to allocate a total of $18 million annually ($54 million in total) from the newly created LiveSecure Community Fund. Two-thirds of these funds have already been raised from major foundations and individual donors.

Each year, two-thirds ($12 million) will be directed at local Federations, on the condition that they can triple the grant funds on their own, through local fundraising, by raising $2 locally for every dollar from the national fund. The remaining one-third ($6 million a year) will go to SCN to underwrite its work with Federations to support the development, enhancement, and implementation of their comprehensive security initiatives.

The success of LiveSecure will depend on the ability to raise the funds needed to make the program truly comprehensive across the continent. As Daniel Levenson, the Deputy Security Director for the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, Boston's Federation, put it, “The availability of funding is a key element in terms of initiating conversations and keeping them going. It will allow Jewish communities and security professionals to make meaningful change on the ground.”

Over the three years of the campaign, the LiveSecure effort is projected to reach a total of $126 million of new philanthropic funding. With this infrastructure in place, communities will seek to leverage portions of the $180 million in Department of Homeland Security grants targeted at securing nonprofits.
“There is no other faith-based system that can push this forward like the Federation system,” said Michael Masters, the National Director and CEO of SCN. For Masters, filling in the gaping holes in the existing security umbrella cannot come soon enough. Many Jewish communities have neither the funds, nor the security expertise, to make their synagogues, JCC’s, eldercare facilities, and other Jewish institutions safer. At the same time, the threats continue to multiply – the FBI, Masters said, currently has 2,700 domestic terrorism cases and are opening new ones at the rate of three a day.

One of the major benefits of LiveSecure, Masters noted, is that it will enable best practices to be instituted across the system, rather than the current situation in which there are frequently disparate security measures being taken not just from one community to another, but even by different Jewish organizations in the same community.

“One of the greatest strengths of our community is our ability to work collectively, but it can also be perceived as a vulnerability. When a Jew is attacked, no matter who they are or where they are, we receive that as an attack on all of us. We need to ensure the resources of our entire community – and System – are mobilized to protect everyone,” he said.

Julie PlattCredit: JFNA

The need for a coordinated effort 

Shawn Brokos spent two decades working for the FBI, first in Newark and then Pittsburgh, before overseeing the federal investigation that brought the perpetrator of the 2018 Tree of Life massacre to justice. Her experience with that case, the worst antisemitic attack in US history, motivated her to retire from the FBI and to focus on protecting the Pittsburgh Jewish community as the Security Director for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

“I saw that the Jewish community here has such a capacity for gratitude and humanity,” Brokos, who grew up in a Christian family in Philadelphia, recalled. “But it also gave me a first-hand insight into the vulnerability of the Jewish people and the hatred that exists toward them.” The Tree of Life shooting, she observed, “brought both of those to the forefront for the region, the country, and the world.”

LiveSecure, she said, will enable a coordinated effort that will bring all Jewish communities up to the same standard of safety and security. “If somebody’s looking to conduct a mass casualty and they are looking at Pittsburgh and the buildings are too secure, they’ll go to Cleveland, Cincinnati, or Philadelphia,” she said. “Threat actors who are looking to do harm to the Jewish community are not necessarily focused on any one location. They’re like gang members who buy into a certain ideology and want to do something to prove their loyalty.”

This makes it imperative for all incidents to be reported to SCN so they can be analyzed. As Neil Rabinovitz, who oversees security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, explained, “One small piece of information from something that is seemingly innocuous could match up with other incidents that have been seen. It may be the piece of the puzzle needed to prevent an attack.”

Phil Niedringhaus, who coordinates security for ShalomColorado, the state's Jewish Federation, agreed. As one of the first undercover FBI officers to penetrate white supremacist organizations, Niedringhaus has seen the ugly face of antisemitism close-up. He views one of the main benefits of LiveSecure as boosting SCN’s ability to monitor what law enforcement officials call “leakage,” in which a potential evildoer signals his or her intentions. 

Empowering Jewish communities to protect themselves

Back in Los Angeles, where 22 years have passed since the horrific community center shooting, the Jewish community faces a unique set of challenges. It covers the largest geographic area of any Jewish community in the United States and embraces nearly the same number of Jewish institutions that are located in metropolitan New York. Los Angeles is also home to a large Iranian community, with many Iranian Jews, but also many non-Jewish, pro-Iran sympathizers.

“Antisemitism has a kind of legitimacy in certain circles that it didn’t have before,” lamented Jay Sanderson, the President & CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “It’s more visible. It makes some people feel that they can pick up a spray can and paint a swastika on a synagogue, or they can attack Jewish people who are eating at a sushi restaurant. We need to create a broader consciousness about these threats and empower Jewish communities to protect themselves.”

Jewish organizations need to stay focused on security, says Sanderson. “LiveSecure will bring more resources into our community and wake up philanthropists to know that this is a major issue. We’ll be sitting here when the 46 Federations with comprehensive security plans become 92, and then 146. At the same time, each community will be learning from each other what works best.”

Grant Mendenhall, who spent 30 years working for the FBI before taking a job overseeing security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis, said that in some places, the Jewish community still feels insulated from the threat. “If something like Pittsburgh or Poway happened here, there would be changes tomorrow to make sure that it never happens again,” he said. “We need to raise the funds and put measures in place to prevent it from happening in the first place.” 

For more information and to donate to the LiveSecure Community Fund, visit the website