“And whoever saves a life of Israel, it is considered as if he saved the world” (Mishnah Torah).
As the author and photographer of the book “Ten Times Chai: 180 Orthodox Synagogues of New York City,” I have been to more than 180 existing Orthodox synagogues in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Without a doubt, I will tell you that the majority of our NYC synagogues are not secure. Without mentioning them by name, several synagogues have full-time security guards, metal detectors, and other security measures such as video cameras. Most others, unfortunately, have little or no security, and this must be changed. Cameras, armed security guards, and locks on synagogue doors where only the congregants know the code must be considered by rabbis, synagogue presidents, executive directors, executive boards, and others in each of our precious synagogues, whether they are considered Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox. We must take action, do our hishtadlus, before more lives are lost through senseless acts of terror.
Indeed, the principle of “pikuach nefesh,” the belief stated in Jewish law that preserving human life should overrule any other religious considerations, applies here. As we just learned this past Shabbos about the shooting at Chabad of Poway, near San Diego, California, it should be clear that the situation is life-threatening to every Jew and thus all appropriate actions should be taken. Before the massacre at Tree of Life-Or L’ Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh, where 11 Jews were murdered, the shooter yelled, “All Jews must die.” After the attack, President Trump tweeted that the attack could have been avoided “if they had protection.” How many synagogues changed their security measures since the Tree of Life synagogue massacre?
In the wake of the countless massacres in Israel, in other countries, and more recently in the U.S., how long will it take for all synagogue leaders to properly address the real issues of safety and security? Enough is enough. Congregants must demand that adequate measures be taken. Failure to do so is to accept this ongoing tragedy for the Jewish people. In addition, kosher supermarkets in each of the five boroughs of NYC must learn from these tragedies, such as the massacre in 2015 at the Hypercacher supermarket in Paris where four people were murdered. How much money should be spent on armed security guards and other security measures? Is the value of a human life no longer priceless? Enough is enough.
In less than a month after a devastating fire struck the 856-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral in France, over a billion dollars has been raised by banks, money managers, and individuals. One cannot help but wonder if a billion dollars could be raised to secure our churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and other places of worship. People of all faiths should be able to pray without fear of yet another heinous attack, whether it is from a lone individual, a hate group, or a terrorist organization.
We often walk a tightrope between bitachon, trust in Hashem, and hishtadlus, effort. Most of the time, we need to do both—we must trust that Hashem will protect us but also take the necessary, although costly, steps of protecting ourselves. No Jew should stay home on Shabbat, or not attend Shacharit, Minchah, or Ma’ariv because he is afraid to enter a synagogue.
I watched Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of Chabad of Poway speaking on YouTube from his hospital bed about the attack on Shabbat, the horrific loss of congregant Lori Gilbert-Kaye, and injuries to others, including himself. Starting his message with “Am Yisrael chai, nothing is going to take us down,” Rabbi Goldstein made an appeal to do something positive this Shabbos.
“Go to your own prospective synagogues, fill up the ballrooms, fill up the sanctuaries. Let them see that nothing will take us down. Let them see that this is not going to deter us, it is not going to scare us. Jewish unity is what we need now more than ever. We are all Yidden. And we all need to stand together, hold hands together, love each other, just like the Rebbe (Menachem Mendel Schneerson, ob’m) taught us. Unconditional love. A little bit of light pushes away darkness; certainly a lot of light pushes away darkness.”
May Rabbi Goldstein’s words endure, and may HaKadosh Baruch Hu grant him a refuah shleimah. May the Jewish people prepare themselves against future attacks. Over 70 years have passed since the Holocaust ended. May we truly make the proper hishtadlus and secure our synagogues and our people. May the words of “Never again” become a reality before Mashiach comes. Enough is enough.
Michael J. Weinstein
Author and photographer of “Ten Times Chai: 180 Orthodox Synagogues of New York City”