This article was produced as part of JTA’s Teen Journalism Fellowship, a program that works with teens across the world to report on issues that impact their lives.
(JTA) — During one of the recent rainstorms in Los Angeles, a security guard at Amanda Kronstadt’s Jewish high school reminded her to wear her rain jacket on her way home. It was a small thing but the freshman appreciates him going the extra mile.
He’s “always looking out for the students,” she said.
It’s important to her that she feels cared for in this way, especially since the late-2022 wave of antisemitic threats targeted Jewish institutions, including schools. In a 17-day span in October and November, at least 14 United States Jewish day schools reported receiving suspicious phone calls or bomb threats, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Schools, Jewish community centers and synagogues have come to rely on their security staff. While security at synagogues used to be an afterthought, said Jason Moss, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel Valley and Pomona, now, “it’s part of all planning and into every aspect of a synagogue.”
After a gunman took hostages at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas in January 2022, Moss spent time looking at security staff in the Jewish world. “They play a vital role in keeping the community secure,” he said. “That it’s something to be commended for, especially for helping to defend a place that is not a part of who they are in some cases.”
Melissa Levy says she couldn’t do her job as director of congressional engagement at Pasadena Jewish Temple without the security staff.
“They’re a part of the family,” said Levy. “Because they are keeping their eyes and ears open and making sure that we stay safe, we can do the rest of our jobs and really help build community here.”
In 2021, there were 61% more attacks against synagogues and Jewish community centers compared to 2020, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Additionally, antisemitic incidents reached an all time high, with 2,717 occurrences of assault, harassment and vandalism.
The Anti-Defamation League also found that there has been a dramatic spike in belief in antisemitic tropes since 2019.
“In the last several years, there has been not only a rise of antisemitism and hatred overall,” said Moss. This “has caused there to be a greater sense of urgency to take all of these threats seriously.”
Due to rising antisemitism, 54% of synagogues surveyed had some form of armed security guards, a 2018 study found. Only 17% of non-Jewish houses of worship had security guards. The religious buildings that were closest to synagogues in the percentage of security guards were mosques with 28%.
Keeping regular security does not come cheap. Rabbi Daniel Bogard in St. Louis, Missouri estimated that security at synagogues costs at minimum $50,000 and can even be near $150,000 in his 2022 interview with Business Insider. Jason Moss said that many synagogues struggle with funding security because it’s an additional expense.
Because of the costly price tag of security, synagogues can apply to receive assistance from the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program. In 2022, the program had $250 million available, a $70 million increase from 2021. Despite the quarter billion dollars, only 52% of applicants received funding as requests totaled almost $450 million, per Jewish Insider. Per request of Jewish community leaders, President Joe Biden proposed a $360 million budget for the program in 2023, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Mike Sayegh has provided security to the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center for nearly four years. Along with his brother, the two run Power House Security, a protection service. The company provides the synagogue a security guard when large groups are on campus, a task he often takes upon himself.
Throughout Sayegh’s work at the Pasadena temple, he has learned more about Judaism and made connections with congregants. As a Christian, he said his work opened up new perspectives and gave him a sense of familiarity with the religion and culture.
Not everyone is on board with beefed-up security at synagogues, especially when guards are armed and in uniform. Some think it undermines the welcoming aspect of a Jewish institution, and many Jews of color and their allies say a heightened security presence can make them feel less safe.
But while acknowledging these objections and somber reasons for having security at synagogues, many congregants have been able to embrace their security team as a part of their community.
That rings true for Samuel Svonkin, a 16-year-old member at Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center. Svonkin has seen security become more prominent at his synagogue in recent years. “Synagogue security doesn’t only benefit the congregation physically but also makes simply existing and being Jewish in the synagogue a more pleasant experience,” he said. “Security does more than protect the synagogue. It allows it and its members to function as one.”
At Carla Kopf’s synagogue, security guards high-five the men, let children jump into their arms and address congregants by name. Kopf, the director of k-12 education and engagement at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, California, has witnessed the connection between security and congregants for the past 29 years. “The [care] and love these guys have for our staff and our membership is quite amazing,” she said.
Security guards at Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, California have also built strong connections with their community. Rabbi Carrie Vogel of Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, California said, “Our community has had armed guards for maybe 7-8 years and they have been widely embraced by our community. They know the names of the [Early Childhood Center] kids, wave to everyone and are a friendly and helpful presence when people enter our building,” said Rabbi Carrie Vogel, the director of the Jewish Experience Center at Kehillat Israel.
As Jewish communities embrace their security, the guards embrace them back. “I love it here. I feel appreciated here,” said Sayegh. “I’ve been thanked more times than I can count. I’ve been thanked by people I’ve never met.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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