March 27, 2003
Now that the war has turned messy, unpredictable, bloody and cruel (i.e., into a war), it takes no special insight to assume that its violence will spill over onto our shores.
Our public safety officials in Los Angeles have identified 549 sites as high-risk targets, among them Los Angeles International Airport, ports, movie studios and synagogues.
Why movie studios, I asked Steven Pomerantz. Pomerantz, who was in Los Angeles last week, served 27 years as an FBI counterterrorism agent. He now runs his own security consulting firm near Washington, D.C., and serves as a terrorism expert for the American Jewish Committee (AJC). He said movie studios are targets for the same reason synagogues are, and for some of the same reasons the World Trade Center was. The terrorists perceive all of these, in varying degrees, as Jewish institutions.
"They define Jewish targets differently than we do," he said. "What keeps me up at night is the thought of an attack on a Jewish target."
Since Sept. 11, our day schools, synagogues and institutions have increased security measures, adding security guards and surveillence cameras.
But Pomerantz, whose own children attend Jewish day school, has even tried to convince his rabbi that we need to do more. He admits to wanting his children's school turned into "a fortress." One shot at a security guard and the terrorists have an all-access pass; temples and schools that abut busy streets are ripe for car-bombings, and their leaders should consider relocating -- seriously.
Don't forget, he said, terror comes in waves, and since Sept. 11 we have been in somewhat of a trough.
"But maybe the war will arouse them," he said. "If anything can do it, this can, and whatever the threat level is for the general population, it is higher for the Jews."
So why don't we take such dire warnings and recommendations more to heart? Either we dismiss experts like Pomerantz as alarmists -- and some people do -- or we gamble. That is, the cost of higher security, both in terms of money and disruption, are beyond what we consider worth paying now. So we hope that nothing will happen. And if it should, we figure the odds are it will happen to another shul, another school. Maybe then the money and will to fix our own problems will easily materialize. Ever since an attack on Rome's central synagogue by PLO terrorists in 1982, synagogue security there is paid for by the Italian government.
But there might be other ways of increasing our security without bankrupting our institutions or ginning up fear and pandemonium.
In London, an organization called the Community Security Trust (CST) uses trained volunteers and full-time paid professionals to provide the 195,000-strong Jewish community there with physical security advice and training, security volunteers at communal events, assisting the police and monitoring communal threats.
"There is no other country of which I am aware that has such a developed and disciplined community-based security organization,"said Sir Paul Condon, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service of London.
Here, The Jewish Federation and the Anti-Defamation League offer Jewish institutions a broader approach to issues of security, but the range and diversity of L.A. Jewry make centralized solutions much more challenging.
"There is some coordination," said Federation President John Fishel, "but it's very difficult given our scope and geography."
The CST model may not be a perfect fit, and it wouldn't replace increased help from the local and federal governments, but a closer look at it may provide a new and improved way to address the increased security needs of our community.
"If the [CST] didn't exist," said David Veness, assistant commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police, "we would have to invent something very much like it."