First-Ever Jewish Security Summit Strategizes Communal Safety, Features U.S. Secretary Napolitano April 25, 2013
Leaders from Federations and other Jewish organizations gathered this week at the first-ever Jewish Communal Security Summit in New York to strategize with top experts in the field how best to keep the community safe. Security providers from around the country had a chance to learn about best practices in threat assessment and response in the current climate.
The long-planned conference, held April 24 and 25 by the Secure Community Network (SCN) at the offices of The Jewish Federations of North America, was especially timely coming on the heels of the attacks earlier this month at the Boston Marathon. Paul Goldenberg, SCN director, was in close touch with law enforcement authorities as the situation unfolded in Boston and called on Jewish communities to remain vigilant in the days following the attack.
The highlight of the security summit was the unscheduled appearance via conference call of U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, who praised SCN and JFNA for their efforts. She said SCN’s work is a model for other faith-based groups and that the partnership between her department and the Jewish community is more important than ever. She lauded the community’s approach of taking responsibility for securing itself through empowerment and knowledge, versus fear and chaos.
The filled-to-capacity conference also drew other speakers from among the ranks of top leadership from the Department of Homeland Security’s counter-terrorism division, the Anti-Defamation League, the New York Police Department’s intelligence analysis unit and the FBI, among others. Speakers addressed the current threat to homeland security, risks to Jewish schools, community centers and synagogues, and anti-Semitic incidents and hate crimes. They also advised participants how best to meet these threats and respond to such incidents; this included offering models of successful security programs currently in place in communities and agencies.
SCN is the national homeland security initiative of JFNA and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Through sharing information, training and consultation, SCN works to help individuals and organizations establish a culture of awareness and preparedness.
“The concept of convening professionals of this caliber is a first and I applaud SCN for doing it,” said Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of JFNA, in his remarks welcoming participants to the inaugural summit. He noted that JFNA created a “home” for SCN because its mission has such a high priority and is a shared responsibility.
“We know how critical it is that our communities and agencies benefit from SCN’s expertise, reach and relationships with the federal government and other law enforcement authorities,” Silverman said.
“Our goal is to be aware of the threats we face and gain knowledge that gives us the power to act in the face of these threats,” he added.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the SCN meeting “could not be more timely or more important.” He said that after incidents occur such as the Boston bombings, “we will be held to account for how we apply the lessons we learn” and for whether leaders work together and allocate the resources needed to try to prevent such attacks from happening again.
For his part, SCN Director Paul Goldenberg told the security professionals at the summit their responsibilities have only intensified. “Your jobs on the front line have gone from the back burner to the front burner because the paradigm has changed,” he said. “If anyone thinks terrorism is going away, we need to think again.”
Goldenberg, who is the vice chair of the Secretary’s Faith-based Security and Communications Advisory Committee, took pains to praise Napolitano’s efforts, saying she has “done an exemplary job with regard to outreach, and engaging faith-based and NGO communities."
Goldenberg stressed the importance of educating and sensitizing the public to be “the real first responders.” He also praised the Federation system for doing an “outstanding job” to support the efforts of SCN. At the same time, he called on communities to step up to “leverage and maximize the resources provided by the Department of Homeland Security” for training and assessment.
Jeffrey Slotnick, who is the chief security officer for OR3M and an adviser to SCN, spoke to the group. “The message I tried to communicate over the past two days is that it’s not about security guards, gates and guns," he said. "It’s about creating resilient community organizations that can manage any form of disaster, man-made or natural.”