By Mordechai Schmutter
I’m considering being a security guard for my shul.
“What shul do you daven in?” you’re asking. “I want to switch out of it.”
The town that I live in (Passaic) has gotten really into security recently. So at some point they called together a security meeting, featuring various cops, federal agents, and local elected officials, in order to gauge whether security was really something the community was worried about. The entire town showed up.
There was also someone from homeland security there, and he gave a demonstration where he said, “Well, if we see someone suspicious, the first thing we do is pat him down.” He called up a volunteer from the audience and patted him down and said, “He’s clean.” Then he turned to the audience and said, “Now what I was doing was feeling for any concealed weapons. If he had oneÂ .Â .Â .”
And the volunteer goes, “Like this?” and he pulls out a gun.
Then the security expert had to spend the next few minutes backtracking about why he didn’t notice the gun (“I didn’t expect someone here to have a gun,” he said, which made us all feel safe), which was followed by one of the leaders of the community explaining that the volunteer was an ex-police officer, so that no one would freak out that some random guy from the audience brought a gun to a security meeting. By the end of the meeting, everyone decided we were better safe than sorry, and the local yeshivos upped their security. I don’t know everything they did to up their security, though. The only thing I know about is the security guards, because they’re standing outside the building every morning when I drop off my kids.
The guards work for a private security firm, and not homeland security, baruch Hashem. I know this because the school actually sent a letter home. The letter didn’t mention all the other security measures, because that would be irresponsible, writing security secrets on thousands of pieces of paper and sending them to everyone in the community to read once and throw out. Whereas the security guards are standing outside anyway, at least when the parents are doing car pool, and the reason they were writing home about those is that they’re upping our tuition to pay for them.
Mail from your kids’ school is never good. Unless it’s a report card, but those are still not good. Or unless they’re school calendars, but those are also not good. (What on earth is a “teacher in-service”? My teachers never had in-services when I was growing up, that I know of, and I turned out fine.)
I see the guards every morning during car pool. Car pool takes forever, even once I pull up to the school, because I always end up behind some guy who’s apparently dropping off his kid for the first time ever. (“Is this the school? Let me stare at it for a while and figure that out.”) And his kid has no idea what school even is.
“What is school? Wait, you mean you’re not coming in with me?”
And then the father has to explain to his kid everything he’ll be learning all year.
So I’m there for a while. And every day now, I see at least one guy with a yellow vest that says “security.” They need the vests, at least to start, because otherwise parents would start calling in about the creepy middle-aged guys who are always hanging out outside the school building.
But from what I can tell, watching the watchmen, it’s a great job to have if what you want in a career is to tell kids your life story over and over. Every time I see one of the guards, all the students are gathered around him and schmoozing. It’s not his job to tell them to go back to class. And it actually works for him, because all the kids he’s supposed to be protecting are in one place. Near him.
The security guards, as far as I can tell, stand outside the school all day. I don’t know why they have to pay someone to do that when some of the students would do that for free. Just teach them how to be security guards. Though to be fair, those kids don’t come to school so they can learn stuff.
I don’t know that a couple of guys with walkie-talkies are going to do much if anything actually goes down. Who’s on the other side of this walkie-talkie? But the fact that someone’s standing there in the first place means that anyone who wants to try something has no idea how many other guards there are. Especially since the one he sees has a walkie-talkie. He’s a deterrent, like a security sign on a lawn. He’s a deterrent that they have to pay a salary to. He’s what the Gemara calls a “shomer kishuin.”
So the security guards stand outside the school and they do .Â .Â . nothing really. It’s probably very boring. Baruch Hashem, it’s very safe, as far as I know. They don’t send a letter home every time the guards tackle someone.
“What? I’m just the janitor!”
So if all goes well, security is a boring job, because you basically stand there all day hoping you don’t have to do what you were hired to do, which I guess is probably most jobs. But you also have no one to talk to. Sure, there’s another guard, but you’re not supposed to be standing next to him, because if you’re standing next to each other, why are there two of you? Unless you’re looking over each other’s shoulders. Or standing back to back.
We have to pay extra tuition for these guards. I understand that, but the numbers the letter gave suggested that these guys get way more than the teachers. OK, so I guess that keeping our kids safe is worth more than what we teachers teach them in a given day. It happens to be that I’m a teacher (in a mesivta), and I’d like to think that I would probably risk my own safety for my students if it came down to it, but, that said, I’m basically useless in a fight. If something went down, I would probably try to disarm the guy with my sense of humor. And hope he speaks English, or else I would have to totally rely on slapstick.
But in the meantime, my shul is looking for volunteers to stand outside during davening on Shabbos mornings. And when I say “my shul,” I mean an entirely different shul than the one I meant the last time I mentioned my shul in an article. This one is a big shul that has multiple minyanim. Even on Shabbos morning they have three–the regular minyan, the hashkamah minyan, and the Sephardi minyan. And yes, Sephardim get their own minyan, because they’re a very nice people who don’t pitch a fit when I call the Ashkenaz minyan “the regular minyan.”
Anyway, the reason I daven there is that my sons decided that they like to daven hashkamah on Shabbos mornings, and I’m all for it, because there are a lot of benefits to davening hashkamah. For example, I can learn with my sons afterwards, which is hard to find time for on short winter Shabbosos. Also, I find that if you eat cholent at a Kiddush at nine o’clock in the morning, you still have room to eat lunch at 11:30.
Now I’m not sure why the shul needs security on Shabbos specifically. I guess during the week the terrorists work. I also don’t actually profess to know the halachos of guarding a shul on Shabbos versus having goyim guard it, and whether, if you have Shabbos goyim, you have to hint things to them, like, “Boy, no one’s tackled anyone yet,” and “No one here called the cops.” Should the rav stand outside?
But the gabbaim, under advice from some professional security organizations, said that they were looking for volunteers to stand outside during times of, quote, “heavy shul traffic.” I don’t know why they don’t just pay the meshulachim to do it. They’re standing there anyway. Though I guess that won’t help us on Shabbos.
So I’m thinking about being a security guard. Except that I have no concept of security, and my entire idea of a secure home is that I recently replaced my front door with one that has a peephole. The door we had before had a semicircle window on top, and the way I figured out who was knocking was I stood on my tiptoes and peeked out the window, and then people saw my yarmulke and knew that I was home. And if it was a tall guy, we had an awkward moment.
Do I have what it takes? I probably don’t. I know this from exercise class, where I go to work off the extra cholent that I eat at nine in the morning, and where everyone wears a T-shirt that says “No Excuses,” and every time I look at them, all I think of are excuses.
On the one hand, I’m very good at standing in one place and not doing anything. My wife compliments me about this all the time. The bad news is that I amuse myself by spacing out and making up stories in my head, and I sometimes miss what’s going on around me. Also, if I’m standing outside during hashkamah, I have to consider that the only thing normally keeping me awake is the constant davening.
So basically, I would stand outside the shul and daven that nothing bad should happen, which, incidentally, is what I’d be doing if I were in shul, but with a minyan. Though I’d probably have more kavanah standing outside and knowing that if something went down, I would have to come up with a disarming line on the spot on zero caffeine.
Also, it’s entirely possible that hashkamah is not considered “heavy shul traffic.”
Then I told a couple of people that I was thinking of becoming a security guard, and they said, “You?” I think the job of a security guard is to make people feel safe, and that reaction does not sound like people feel safe. Also, if I were in charge of shul security, I would probably start by installing a peephole.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.