By Mark Weintraub
There is no question that the Shabbat of October 27,2018 at Congregation Tree of Life is a watershed event. The memory of that terrible day might fade around the globe as the world will (unfortunately, inevitably) suffer through another similar shockwave. For the Jewish community, this is a turning point that, in my opinion, must be in the forefront of our minds. We hope and pray that Pittsburgh will be the last time, but history makes one a bit skeptical that anti-Semitic acts like this are at their end.
The Jewish Community has to do something that is bold and dramatic to deter these threats in a proactive way. Individual Jewish security in the United States has to be recognized as a basic American Jewish right. It is hard to preserve the open, welcoming communal environment at a Jewish Federation, Synagogue or JCC if people don’t feel safe. They simply won’t show up.
What’s at stake is the preservation of the basic core Jewish value of saving lives. The American Jewish community has to spearhead an effort embracing the value of “kol yisrael arviim zeh be zeh;” (all of Israel responsible for each other) to preserve personal Jewish security at our communal institutions.
Birthright Israel is a great example of how the American Jewish community embraced a new value in a big way to make a dramatic impact. The idea was simple, it is every young person’s “birthright” to visit Israel and the barriers towards that goal were taken away. The biggest of course, was cost by providing fully subsidized trips. It was a big communal idea that impacted individual Jewish identity. Could we apply the same principal and effort for “Birthright Israel” to ensure the personal safety of every Jew who goes to our communal institutions by creating a “Birthright Bitachon” …(security in Hebrew). Shouldn’t that be a basic Jewish right?
The challenges of starting a “Birthright Bitachon” are huge. The first barrier is cost. Security apparatus is EXPENSIVE and that cost prohibits us from instituting elegant solutions that could help inhibit the next attack. The second major obstacle is that the geographic boundaries for this effort in the United States is that there are none. We can’t just focus on the metropolitan areas where most Jews reside. Threats are even greater in smaller Jewish communities where there may be little or no security but the threat is imminent.
What assets do we need to start a “Birthright Bitachon?”
- Leadership: we need to learn and engage the amazing lay and professional leaders (including foundations) who created Birthright Israel to create a new Birthright. This leadership will help give legitimacy to this “new value” and help marshal the support and resources to do so.
- Funding: Security installations can be prohibitively expensive. We need to figure a way to subsidize and potentially lower costs on security. There should be a baseline mandated security for all institutions that is required budgeting for any Jewish nonprofit. Security needs should be a front end, not back end, institutional discussion. Collective purchasing of security hardware could be part of the solution. One could imagine the establishment of the “Foundation for Jewish Security” to subsidize American Jewish security.
- Values: Personal Jewish security has to be a moral movement, because American Jewish lives are at risk. The moral leaders of our community can lead the charge.
- Israel: Israel and Israelis are uniquely position to take an important supporting role in “Birthright Bitachon.” Israel has struggled with security challenges for years and has answers. There are great resources out there to help: The Jewish Agency, the Israeli-American Council (IAC) and Israeli nonprofits. The knowledge base is extensive.
- Greater American community: can partner with us in so many ways as they do now. We could create a model for other communities to emulate. This includes all levels of government.
We can do this! The security and life of every Jew is a basic right of our community. “Birthright Bitachon” could be a part of the answer. Thankfully, we the Jewish people, have resources to do it if we so choose to.
Mark Weintraub is a Jewish communal professional, writer and thinker who has worked both in Israel and the US Jewish community on the national and local level.