By Monsey.com staff
One only needs to open a newspaper to realize that we live in an unsafe world. It may seem bleak, at first, to realize that there are people looking to destroy our way of life, not only as Westerners but as Jews. While our people have been a target throughout history, there are many groups that have been organized to protect our way of life. One of them is the Community Security Service (CSS). The mission of the CSS is to “Protect Jewish life and the Jewish way of life in America”.
Founded in 2007, this nonprofit proactively protects the people, institutions and events of the American Jewish community. Partnering with Jewish organizations, governmental authorities and the police, CSS safeguards the community by training community based volunteers in professional security techniques, providing physical security and raising public awareness about safety issues. CSS has trained over 3,500 people in the last decade, and has approximately 1,000 active volunteers, representing the rich diversity of the American Jewish community. CSS volunteers include men and women, age groups spanning from students to retirees, the unaffiliated and adherents from all the religious streams of Judaism.
After being appropriately vetted, the members of CSS receive the highest level of security training to enabling them to protect the community. The CSS curriculum is based on that of similar organizations around in world. It is very much a proactive, Israeli-style, security course.
Over the last few years CSS has organically expanded beyond its NYC beginnings. There are now CSS teams throughout North Jersey, Westchester, Long Island, Massachusetts, The DC Metro area and recently in California and Philadelphia. In Rockland County, CSS volunteers are currently in place at only one shul, Kehillas Bais Yehudah (KBY) in Wesley Hills. CSS volunteers are on hand there every Shabbos and any other time the shul holds a large event. In addition to the security training, the volunteers receive training in Halachos pertaining to the use of their resources on Shabbos. In other areas, CSS includes many Orthodox shuls and has worked with rebbeim to develop a series of protocols that are acceptable to Orthodox Jews.
When asked if the volunteers have ever “saved” the shul from anything untoward happening, the CSS members are happy to say that they do not really know. “Our presence at the shul is often enough to deter dangerous people,” says Shia, the KBY CSS leader. He explains that having a security presence scares away many evil doers, who just look to move on to an easier target. While that makes KBY a safer place, Shia worries that other Jewish institutions could be that easier target. He wants more shuls in the county to get trained and have a similar presence. Becoming that deterrence is only a small part of the CSS training, but it plays a huge role in keeping the community safe.
In addition to training the volunteers, CSS offers a network of community connectivity. This allows them to keep the entire community informed of incidents that occur in one shul or area. It also enables them to see patterns across larger geographic areas and bring them to the attention of Local and Federal Law enforcement. An example of this was the recent discovery of similar hate mail that went to 40 shuls in the Tri State area from California. Each shul and its local police, only looked at it as a harmless one-time event. CSS, however, was able to ascertain that the 40 communities were linked and provided the information to the Department of Homeland Security.
Shuls and institutions often turn to CSS as their security partner because of their impressive track record and their unique perspective of being “from the community”. CSS volunteers utilize their training by providing security of large events outside of their shul as well. Some of those include the annual Kinus event in Brooklyn, The FIDF Dinner in Westchester, the annual National Menorah Lighting in DC, JNF Shabbat in the Park in NY and many others.
Affiliating a shul with CSS seems a good idea when one realizes that Jews are also the most common target of religious hate crimes. According to FBI statistics, in 2014, almost 60 percent of all religious hate crimes targeted Jews. That was three times more than that of the next group. CSS recently published a white paper that examined the last 50 years of anti-Semitic and terrorist attacks in the United States. It is available on their website at www.thecss.org
“Security shouldn’t always mean the creation of a fortress,” says Jason Friedman, the Executive Director of CSS, “Awareness and Panic are two separate things”. Friedman, who is also an Active US Navy reservist, explained that openness to others, is the great strength of the Jewish community and the United States. CSS members seek to foster a “culture of responsibility” and to provide a response to these security threats that is both empowering and effective. That means having solid training and an understanding of what is just suspicious and what constitutes a real threat.
CSS’s approach is simply making Jewish communities stronger and safer. To do this CSS looks for volunteers who have a strong commitment to community service and helping others, intelligence and good judgment, and complete professionalism in dealings with others. CSS will train volunteers from across the Jewish community who might have little security experience and turn them into proficient protectors. These volunteers know their own institutions better than anyone else; they are educated, sharp and committed to protecting their family and friends who are inside. CSS volunteers attend security seminars sponsored by federal agencies and work with local law enforcement and other security organizations on drills and “table top” exercises.
Good security needs a holistic approach, including everything from physical capabilities (such as cameras and locks) to operational assets (such as CSS teams and trained staff and custodians). CSS teams play an indispensable role in this architecture since they deploy during highest risk times and have the cultural familiarity to better identify suspicious behavior and out-of-place objects in their environments, thereby addressing a situation long before it escalates into a serious incident. In order to create that “culture of responsibility” around security, participation from so-called “ordinary people” (who are simultaneously the most affected and most able to contribute to their security) should be the cornerstone of any security approach. Only when a janitor, parent, student or congregant notices something odd and notifies proper respondents will we have fully utilized our best asset—people.
CSS’s status as a nonprofit organization enables it to keep the financial responsibilities of shuls and institutions as low as possible. For more information on CSS you can visit their website at www.thecss.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to became a part of CSS or bring CSS to your shul, school or organization, please email email@example.com