Security at TBE

Posted on September 15, 2019 by Evan Lerner

Temple security is a longstanding priority at Temple Beth-El. It is an issue for which we continue to stay abreast of techniques and technologies to keep our congregants safe. To that end, we have implemented the Standard Response Protocol for emergency preparedness, upgraded parking lighting, put phones in the classrooms, and established door-locking protocols. In addition, we’ve added externally visible classroom numbers, improved access to emergency equipment, and introduced Stop-the-Bleed training. Improving security is an ongoing process.

Unfortunately, incidents of anti-Semitism have risen sharply in the last few years. According to the Anti-Defamation League, almost 2,000 anti-Semitic incidents were reported in the United States last year, including the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history: the massacre of 11 Jewish worshippers, and an additional two more injured, at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh by a white supremacist. Moreover, New Jersey had the third highest number of incidents reported of all states. An unfortunate reality is that these incidents are occurring at an increasing and alarming rate.

TBE leadership, keenly aware of these statistics, decided that it was time to examine more closely our security and establish appropriate action plans. Late in 2018 former TBE president Jay Lavroff, with support from the Board of Trustees and Oversight Committee, formed a Security Committee. TBE member Evan Lerner was asked to chair, and the Committee was formed with TBE members Jay Lavroff, Kevin Skole, Ryan Maizel, Harold Levin, and Paul Walitsky, TBE President Leigh Miller, TBE First Vice President Gary Cohen, TBE Executive Director and member Amy Rubin, and former Somerset County Sheriff Chief Tim Pino serving as Committee members.

The Committee’s charge included:

  1. Assess the TBE facility from a security point of view and determine what upgrades are required/recommended to help insure that all operations atthe temple can be continued in a safe manner whilemaintaining the open and inclusive nature of our congregation;
  2. Investigate ways in which TBE members can assist in improving our security as well as analyze and institute plans to enable the TBE community to respond to an ncident in the safest manner;
  3. Seek funding to help defray the costs of improvements; and
  4. Implement a comprehensive plan to effectuate the foregoing.

The Committee met several times in the past nine months and had members of the Hillsborough Police Department and Chief Pino conduct security assessments of the facility. As a result of these meetings and assessments, the Committee has decided that some significant improvements to the facility are required. These “target hardening” improvements include, but are not limited to, installing more secure exterior and interior doors, treating windows, upgrading the electronic security access features, installing a video monitoring system, upgrading alarms, and installing security bollards as appropriate around the building. These projects will take time, but we have started the process. For example, we expect to have the bollards in place for the High Holidays.

In the spring, the Committee met several times to formulate and write a grant request seeking funds from the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness to pay for many of the identified security improvements. We are pleased to report that the Committee’s efforts were very successful, and on Aug. 19, we received notice that we were awarded $100,000 in grant money to use toward the designated improvements. The grant money, which we will receive incrementally over the course of up to three years, will cover a significant portion of the costs of the upgrades. The balance of the funds required will come from previously budgeted funds and donations from congregation members (for which we are very grateful and thank you!).

Many communities have recruited community members to assist in identifying potential security issues, and the Security Committee decided to implement a like program based on this model. In May we commenced recruitment for our volunteer group (called “Shomrim,” which means “watchers” or “guards”). We currently have 25 volunteers and are seeking more. The Shomrim will be used as extra eyes and ears around the synagogue during services and special events. Shomrim will also receive some training in first aid, as well as processes and procedures to follow in the event of an incident at TBE. Shomrim will not be asked to act in lieu of security personnel. In fact, part of the comprehensive security plans calls for an increased police presence at higher-attendance functions at TBE. We are seeking more volunteers for this service opportunity and interested TBE members should contact Harold Levin, Evan Lerner, or Amy Rubin if you’d like to participate.

The final leg of our comprehensive plan is to identify exactly which items will best serve our purposes, purchase them, and have them installed. This will be a process and has already started. We hope to have all identified items purchased and installed as early as possible.

Evan Lerner, Security Committee Chair


Originally published in the September-October 2019 issue of the Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archives.