Jewish Journal

Conflict in Israel heightens local security concerns

by Ryan Torok

Posted on Jul. 30, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Israel’s Gaza War has some Los Angeles Jewish institutions addressing security concerns. 

At Adat Ari El, a Conservative congregation in Valley Village, Executive Director Michal Lesner said the institution is “boosting” security. This includes increasing the visibility of guards, installing a barrier gate in the parking lot and implementing a driver’s license scanning system for those who don’t have temple stickers on their vehicles and wish to drive onto the temple’s campus.

“It’s about the perception of the place. I think if you can boost the perception that we actually have good security, I think people will understand it’s not a place where they want to try to do harm,” Lesner said.

Just how many shuls are taking steps to ramp up their security in response to events in Israel and Gaza — where more than 1,000 Palestinians and more than 50 Israeli soldiers have died — is unclear.

But there is little doubt that Jewish institutions face greater risk at a time of war in Israel, according to Ivan Wolkind, chief operations and financial officer at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. 

“Do we see a heightened security risk to Jews and Jewish institutions in Los Angeles as a result of what’s happening in Israel? The straight answer is yes, unfortunately we do. Thank God there haven’t been any major incidents and we know of no specific threats, but we believe there is a heightened risk and we are acting accordingly,” Wolkind told the Journal a few days after Federation held its second annual Safety and Security Fair on July 24.

Westwood’s Sinai Temple, one of the largest shuls in Los Angeles, is closely watching events unfolding in Israel with security concerns in mind, although the shul’s leadership did not want to disclose specifics.

“Part of good security is not talking about security. That is why Israel is so successful —they don’t talk about what they do, they just do it, and we do the same thing,” Howard Lesner, the Conservative congregation’s executive director, who is married to Michal Lesner, said during a recent phone interview. 

“We are doing our due diligence, and we are in touch with proper agencies, and we do what is necessary to make sure this place is as secure as it is when there are no problems going on in the Middle East,” he said. 

Alison Mayersohn, senior associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said in an email that the organization is not aware of specific synagogues beefing up their security. However, on July 14, the ADL issued an advisory to Jewish groups in its four-county Pacific Southwest region — which includes Los Angeles, Kern, Riverside and San Bernardino counties — about politically motivated hackers who struck Pennsylvania and Texas shul websites. This month, the organization will hold its annual security seminar. 

Threats do not exist only for shuls. Anti-Israel protests around town are a hotbed of security concerns for the Los Angeles community, Wolkind said.

“We know there are lots of protests being planned here and nationally against the war, and always these protests become not just an anti-war but an anti-Israel platform,” he said.

This was apparent at the widely buzzed-about July 13 pro-Israel rally, where a fight between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrators prompted a federal officer to fire his weapon. Nobody was seriously injured.

On July 25, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Sgt. Al Orozco was among the 14 LAPD officers at an anti-Israel rally outside the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. Orozco said law enforcement is doing its best “to monitor and facilitate the protests [happening around the city] in case they become rowdy.” 

Nevertheless, “We’re not on a higher [security alert]” than usual, he said.

ADL National Director Abe Foxman has urged Jewish communities to be cautious as anti-Semitic violence escalates in Europe. Paris, in particular, has been the site of many significant attacks against Jews.

“While most of the demonstrations in the U.S. have been peaceful, we are encouraging Jewish institutions, organizations and synagogues to have a heightened sense of awareness, particularly in light of what is happening overseas,” Foxman said in a statement.

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