All houses of worship strive to be warm and welcoming, but they must also keep everyone safe. Today’s heightened anti-Semitism makes the balancing act more challenging for synagogues. What steps should Jewish leaders take to protect their congregations?

First, secure buildings. In 2019, after anti-Semitic attacks in Pennsylvania, California, New Jersey, and New York, the United Jewish Appeal–Federation of New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council’s New York chapter announced the “community security initiative” (CSI)—a comprehensive program to enhance safety for regional Jewish institutions. (I serve as a senior advisor.) Offering vulnerability assessments, training, and help in winning government grants, CSI’s team works closely with institutional leadership to identify the best ways to harden their facilities against attacks.

Every building is different, but CSI’s recommendations follow straightforward principles. Only identified and authorized people should enter, and buildings need secure perimeters. Any intruder entering a Jewish facility poses a risk. People jiggling doorknobs and checking windows might want only to steal the pushke (charity box), but their intentions can be far worse. CSI gauges whether a facility can delay or deny an intruder and recommends upgrades when needed. Could someone break in via a shabby door, or lob a dangerous object through a window?

Quality security planning relies on appropriate equipment, but a well-functioning system depends on ensuring that the right people can seamlessly enter the premises—and that the wrong people cannot. Going beyond access control, guards can deter would-be attackers merely by their presence, while also reassuring constituents. Post–October 7, UJA granted $4.5 million to CSI, most of which covered additional security guards at synagogues, schools, and Jewish community centers in the New York area.

While New York City subsidizes security guards for nonpublic schools with more than 300 students, smaller schools are left unprotected. The federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) funds security-guard providers, but New York’s Securing Communities Against Hate Crimes (SCAHC) grants, for instance, do not. Large synagogues often devote seven-figure budgets to security. Jewish groups need more security-guard funding, along with easier ways to hire off-duty officers.

Because safety costs money, government grants are important in protecting at-risk nonprofits. In 2023, New York State nonprofits received nearly $38 million from the federal NSGP and $50 million in SCAHC grants. Yet fewer than half of the applicants for the NSGP won grants. And many nonprofits require additional assistance during the application and procurement phases of security upgrades. CSI has developed best practices to keep congregations safe, and we share recommendations with our interfaith partners and offer grantsmanship training. All congregations need to be safe.

Government can help beyond providing financial aid. Local police should be trained to provide more than crime-prevention surveys. Current threats include active shooters, sharp-edged weapons attacks, arson and explosions, ramming, and cyberattacks. Certain threats require police intervention. When a house of worship plans an active-threat drill, it should work together with its local precinct. In a real emergency, these officers will be first to respond, and it’s in everyone’s interest that coordination be seamless.

Sadly, worshippers themselves must be trained to respond to threats. What good is it if a synagogue has a strong door with good locks, but people leave it open? Ultimately, security cannot be left solely to the professionals. Everyone in the congregation should know what to do in an emergency and how to help make themselves and those around them more secure.



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