A Holistic Approach to Building Safer Communities as a Means to Building Stronger Communities

Mount Sinai College in Maroubra, Australia; screenshot: news.com.au

[Based on a talk delivered at the ECJC Building Resilient Communities conference in Barcelona, Spain on 14 November 2016.]

By Josh Spinner

I am not a security expert. My professional affiliation is with a foundation that funds Jewish education. So why am I discussing security? For two reasons, the first absolutely clear, the second more subtle though no less important.

The first reason is to make the obvious point that security for Jewish communities and institutions is not only the business of professionals and security specific organizations. Many of my funding colleagues and partners and I have heard at one time or another from organizations, funders, and/or individuals, “We don’t do security, our mandate is to support or to lead youth programs/fund heritage projects…” and so on.

Today, when we speak about security, we are speaking about pikuach nefesh, the awesome responsibility of protecting lives that must transcend mandates and areas of focus. Therefore, the first reason I am discussing security is to emphatically state that we must all engage in supporting and providing security to Jewish communities and institutions, even if doing so is in technical violation of our respective mandates.

But there is far, far more.

I represent a foundation whose core mission is to support the building and maintaining of healthy, vibrant, dynamic communities through education. And I will argue that the second reason I can, and indeed must, discuss security is that proper engagement with security will in fact do nothing other than support the building and maintaining of healthy, vibrant, dynamic communities through education.

Allow me to open my case with an example from the field of educational technology. Our foundation recently engaged in a review of educational technology capacities at our schools. The outcome, predictably, was that some schools are stronger and some weaker. The recommendations, however, were telling. We were not advised to first invest in hardware, such as smartboard or tablets, nor to first invest in building skills. Rather, we were advised to first start by teaching the value and importance of technology for pedagogy. For if one has a tablet and knows how to use it, but does not value its use, then it will most likely remain unused.

So too with security, we must start with values. We must start with full engagement, buy in, and alignment. We need stakeholders to understand and believe in what we are doing, and for them to act accordingly.

For example, one of the most challenging security moments in a school day is when the gates must open to allow children in or out. We can install the best gates and the strongest doors, but they must open wide at least twice each day. We can train the guards to stand correctly, but if we do not also train the children, parents, caregivers, and staff to move effectively – not running in and out, not keeping the doors and gates open too long – what use is the training of the guards? Therefore, we want all stakeholders, entire communities indeed, aligned in active support of security measures.

But how is that to work? Is it not too daunting to get an entire community aligned in active support of anything? In truth, this is a formidable challenge, but it presents both a problem and an opportunity.

To consider how to align an entire community in support of security, or any other endeavor, one must first define ‘community.’ Thinking beyond formal structures, a community is a group of people who join, or remain, or stand together, due to sharing something. A strong community might share values that then lead them to shared behaviors and/or shared actions. For example, imagine a group of people who believe in helping the needy, and together work to constantly help the needy. This value and the actions that flow from it shape their lives. They become a community of people who help the needy. Let us call them a primary community – a community of primary values and actions.

We can admire primary communities, but we can also recognize the possibility of secondary communities.

Imagine a community of the children of people who helped the needy. What brings them together is their shared experience of having watched their parents help the needy. This too would be a community, drawn together by its shared values and experiences. However, we would probably agree that this secondary community might be a bit weaker than the community of the parents, those who believed one is obliged to help the needy, and then worked together to do so. And we might further agree that it is harder and harder to imagine third, fourth, and fifth level communities – those of the grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.

What will make the great-great grandchildren into a community? Are their shared stories about their great-great grandparents enough? What will they do with their stories? How much need will they have to seek one another out and form a community? Probably not much. The further one gets from an active group of people, who formed a community by acting together, the weaker the community.

Let us now consider many of our Jewish communities today.

Are our Jewish communities comparable to the above described communities of parents in primary communities? Or that of the children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren? Of course, the answer depends on the community, on the individual member in question, on the issue at hand, on the context, and so on.

However, we can probably agree that all too often our Jewish communities distinguish their members from other people – non-members – by ancestry and residual identity, not by actively lived, shared values. We often gather to tell stories about our grandparents and great grandparents and we do so because being with other people whose grandparents had similar experiences is comforting. We are members of secondary, tertiary or fourth level communities, at each stage weaker and weaker.

How does all of this analysis of communities relate to the issue of working together to build safer communities? Communities today need security, and security needs to be holistic – understood and acted upon by all. But, often communities of great-great grandchildren do not work well together, or even at all. So, if providing security effectively requires everyone to not only share values but to act on them, how can we expect that from groups of people who almost never act together?

This very problem provides an opportunity. Perhaps building safer communities might serve as a means to building active, healthy, strong, engaged communities; communities in which the need to work together is apparent, because the aim is apparent. And, when people are focused on an aim, they are more likely to act.

To understand this, let’s not look at a specific city-community, but rather at a countrywide one – the United Kingdom and CST (Community Security Trust). The institutions and their constituencies that work with CST, and that depend on CST for their lives, often have little to do with each other. They don’t pray together, they don’t educate their children together, they don’t invite one another for holidays and celebrations. But, on the issue of security they draw together. They understand that pikuach nefesh is an obvious, measureable, shared goal. They understand that they MUST figure out how to reach this shared goal and that pooling resources, expertise, and influence will get them further and faster to this critical goal.

How relieved we ought to be then, that an issue like security exists. We can finally draw together, with a clear aim, and do something based on our shared values. And if we can achieve that end on the issue of security, then perhaps we can extend it to other matters as well. We would not only be a safer community, but also a stronger community.

Building safer communities, then, is about much more than the word “safer.” It is also about the words “building” and “communities.” Each of those three words must be actively practiced, and then we will have a chance, not only of building doors and gates and posting guards, but of having someone inside to protect in a generation or two.

Josh Spinner is Executive VP and CEO, the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation.

The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation is one of the founding partners of The Pillar Foundation, which assists Jewish schools, kindergartens and community centers in high-threat locations in Europe to improve their security measures through introducing comprehensive security policies, training and drills, and emergency action plans.