Protect this house

Community Security Service partners with Orthodox Union to enhance security ahead of High Holy Days

Evan Bernstein, CEO of CSS, told eJP that the group, which trains volunteers nationwide in basic security procedures, is speaking with Conservative and Reform movements as well

As the Jewish community prepares to increase safety measures ahead of the High Holy Days, which begin next Saturday, two leading organizations have announced a partnership to enhance security awareness. 

The Orthodox Union and Community Security Service announced their collaboration Wednesday through a Memorandum of Understanding. The partnership marks the first time CSS has formally aligned with a denomination of Judaism. By working together, the groups hope to build awareness around volunteer security opportunities, programs and training, according to the MOU. Discussions between CSS and additional streams are also underway.

“The safety and security of our community’s shuls and members is of prime importance for the OU,” Rabbi Moshe Hauer, executive vice president of the OU, the largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization in the U.S., said in a statement. “The network of security volunteers that CSS has trained and supports is an invaluable resource for our community. Partnership with CSS and helping connect more of our congregations with their network will enable members of the OU community to practice our freedom of worship with a greater freedom from fear.”

Founded in 2007, CSS trains volunteers nationwide in basic security procedures to help protect their synagogues and events. As part of the agreement, the OU will promote CSS’ programs and services among its affiliated staff, institutions and constituents across the country, which will be available free of cost. Additionally, CSS intends to provide volunteer training and resources to the OU. 

CSS has forged a number of partnerships over the past several years with a diverse range of organizations including Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, the Secure Community Network, UJA/JCRC’s Community Security Initiative, Greater Miami Jewish Federation and National Council of Young Israel. 

The newest collaboration comes amid a 36% increase in antisemitic incidents in the U.S. in 2022, according to the ADL’s audit of antisemitic incidents. The report, released in March of this year, found that campus and school incidents were up nearly 50% and there were 91 bomb threats targeting Jewish institutions. 

Evan Bernstein, national director and CEO of CSS, told eJewishPhilanthropy that the OU partnership took until now because “it’s critical that we ensure [partnerships] go beyond optics and can add value.” 

“Therefore, we work to understand how each partner organization can be in the best position to improve the safety of institutions and communal events, which may entail tailoring our services and expertise to meet specific needs. The OU is an incredibly important entity within the Jewish community and many of our current CSS synagogues are OU-affiliated synagogues. This announcement is codification of the work we have been doing on the ground at the local level with their synagogues,” Bernstein said.

Bernstein told eJP that CSS is speaking with leadership in the Conservative and Reform movements, and hopes to formally partner with them as well. 

“With the rise in antisemitism in recent years, no one denomination has been spared from hate and it takes a whole-of-community approach to improve our security,” he said. 

Bernstein concluded, “We know all too well the rise in antisemitism. The ultimate goal of this alliance — especially before the High Holidays, and with all new partnerships that we forge — is to encourage a larger volume of members of the Jewish community to be empowered as Jews. Our hope is that it will manifest itself with more individuals signing up for training and taking advantage of the array of volunteer security programming that we offer. Our leadership team and subject matter experts are looking forward to continuing to work closely with the OU leadership to continue tackling the concerning rise in anti-Jewish hate before, during and after the High Holidays.”