During the “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017, white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched down the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia brandishing swastikas and confederate flags while chanting hate-filled slogans such as “Jews will not replace us.” Symbols and slogans meant to instill fear, terrorize the community, and justify violence were seen and heard on the UVA college campus and on the tree-lined streets of an American town – a once unimaginable prospect.
At the corner of two of those streets – East Jefferson and 3rd Street in Charlottesville – sits Congregation Beth Israel. On the day of violence in August 2017, individuals carrying Nazi and confederate flags gathered outside the synagogue. Men adorned with those symbols, armed with rifles and handguns, stood ominously for hours, watching the synagogue, feet from the playground where Jewish children usually play. Since then, white supremacists and neo-Nazis have continued to focus on Congregation Beth Israel, frequently sitting in their cars outside of the synagogue.
For that one small synagogue, it would be easy to feel intimidated. Threatened. Alone. If they were alone. But they are not. Because Jewish Federations are there. Since that horrific day in Charlottesville, the Federation system has come together to work directly with the Jewish community there.
“Within 24 hours of those events, our Secure Community Network, or SCN, was on the ground in Charlottesville,” said Michael Masters, SCN’s National Director and CEO. Since then, SCN has continued to be there, working with the Jewish community in Charlottesville, to include on the UVA campus and with the synagogue.
“Through our 24/7 Information Sharing and Intelligence Center, SCN has monitored for threats and issues. SCN has worked with local, state and federal law enforcement as well as with the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond, Virginia to support that community and ensure its safety and security,” Masters said.
On the one-year anniversary this past August, SCN was there. As long as threats persist, SCN will be there. Which means the Federation movement will be there.
Critical times call for critical measures
The Jewish community currently faces one of the most dynamic and complex threat environments in the United States than at any time since September 11th, 2001. “We face resurgent, emboldened and increasingly violent neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, as well as challenging threats from both state and non-state actors, including foreign terrorist organizations and those that they seek to inspire,” Masters said. “We also face an increase in targeted violence: from shootings in schools to vehicle rammings – from rural towns and suburban centers to college campuses and urban cities.”
SCN has been at the forefront of addressing these challenges – educating, leveraging resources, and ensuring that security concerns are a top focus of government. As the organization moves forward, it remains committed to these objectives.
With new leadership as well as an expanded Board, SCN has been working to enhance its operational capacity, providing all of its communities with an opportunity to improve safety and security, according to Masters. “We are working more closely with law enforcement as well as with Jewish organizational partners to strengthen information sharing, increasing the capacity to perform threat assessment at facilities, broadening its training program to include Jewish schools, houses of worship, day camps, college campuses, senior centers and offices, among others – for everything from active shooters and natural disasters to cyber events,” he said.
For the latest advancements in security, SCN works directly with subject matter experts. SCN led the first-ever Homeland Security Mission to Israel on behalf of the system with 20 community security directors and their local police chiefs as well as law enforcement officers.
SCN constantly works to best understand threats and identify ideas, discussing current threats, issues and solutions with Israeli partners, on everything from tools to protect physical structures to cyber security, according to Masters. “We have created an intelligence gathering and distribution center, known as the Duty Desk, which enables the distribution of more timely and relevant intelligence. In constant contact with the FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), SCN has implemented a mass notification system available to Jewish communities across North America,” Masters explained.
Because individual communities’ needs often differ, SCN works to develop comprehensive security strategies, creating frameworks that are based on best practices but are specific and unique to each community. This year, SCN has already visited more than 47 Federations, working to improve each community’s protection and preparedness.
Partnerships that strengthen and protect
“We are here to protect key centers of Jewish life,” Masters stressed. “Whether from the Boycott Divest and Sanctions movement or from white supremacists, we cannot allow Jewish life to be threatened.” He continued: “We know that repeated acts of intimidation, harassment and, in certain instances, violence, aim to intimidate our community and reduce participation in Jewish organizations as well as affiliation with Jewish life. We are fighting back.”
Nowhere is this more evident than on college campuses. SCN’s Campus Security Initiative is working to ensure that Jewish students are safe and secure, their organizations and facilities protected, their campus life empowered, according to Masters. Founded by The Jewish Federations of North America, Alpha Epsilon Pi, Hillel and Chabad on Campus, this initiative has worked on more than 30 campuses in more than 20 states and responded to more than 42 incidents since being formed. SCN is now working to expand the services provided, as well as the partners who participate.
SCN’s partnership with Jewish Federations’ Israel Action Network (IAN) further highlights the strength of the Federations collective efforts and efforts. “Following the tragic events in Parkland, Florida, SCN and Prizmah, the association of Jewish day schools, created a strategic partnership allowing us to better protect our schools and kids,” Masters said. SCN also launched, in collaboration with Jewish Community Partners of Memphis, Tennessee, its Regional Security Advisor pilot program, to provide best custom security solutions to local communities.
In addition, SCN is now collaborating with the ADL for the first time to develop a strategic partnership, identifying its respective areas of strength so that each group can support the other. All of this is just the beginning.
Ensuring a stronger future
The ways in which SCN is approaching the issues associated with safety and security – from programs to partnership – demonstrates the value of SCN’s relationship with Jewish Federations. “Together, we can accomplish anything,” Masters said. “We can protect the institutions and organizations that make us who we are. We can empower communities. Together, we can not only protect the future, but we can ensure that it is stronger.”
Jewish Federations, through SCN, and in collaboration with its partners, has made a great deal of progress in a short time. But they have much, much more to do. They can do it, as long as they keep moving forward, together.
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