From Yoni’s Desk: Shul security has become a year-round concern

Memorial to the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. (Andrea Hanks/White House photo)

Of the three synagogues I regularly attend for Shabbat services, only one has security at the front door. When the guard, usually an off-duty (but in uniform) police officer, comes into view, my son, whose current professional goals revolve around the wearing of said uniform, gets very excited. My daughter, old enough to remember when this same congregation, albeit housed at the time in significantly smaller confines, employed no security whatsoever, seems nonplussed by the scene. Instead, she’s memorized the code to get in and out through the back door. As for me, the sight of the guard presents both a reminder of why shul security is so necessary these days and comfort that the horrific scenes we’ve seen in Pittsburgh and Poway, Calif., during the last Jewish calendar year won’t be repeated here.

The other two places of worship I frequent, both of which could accurately be described as fledgling minyanim (the Yiddish word shtibl is a tempting descriptor, but given the modern ethos of both shuls, perhaps it’s not the most historically accurate choice), don’t have the money to pay for the kind of security big congregations can afford. During services at both locations over the past few months, I’ve caught myself staring at the unlocked front door, mind racing through potential exit strategies. On one occasion, I went and stood by the door myself. Others have done the same.

Many of us are used to seeing heightened security in and around synagogues for the High Holidays, but it can be easy for those of us who aren’t regular shul-goers to forget that, in the current climate, there is a need for security all year round. At large synagogues, that can mean encountering the jarring site of guards at the door every Shabbat. For smaller shuls, congregants are enlisted to act as the first line of defence (the moniker du jour – “greeters” – puts a happy face on an otherwise grim reality). In all cases, it means that everyone in attendance needs to be acutely aware of their surroundings and prepared to act.


A few weeks back, I happened to be at another large synagogue on Saturday morning. At the door, the guard asked to take a look through my tallit bag. It seemed a little draconian to me – more intrusive than necessary – but then, I’m not a regular there. Perhaps there’s a greater potential for harm nearby. And maybe if the officer stationed outside my regular big shul made the same request every Shabbat morning, I’d just get used to it, too.

Either way, I couldn’t help but consider what the tallit bag’s original owner, my late survivor grandfather, would have thought about the process. Growing up going to shul with him, I can’t think of a single one we ever attended together that had any kind of security, other than on the High Holidays. There was simply no reason for it. Now there is.