The High Holy Days are a time of celebration, commemoration and reflection.
But at a time when antisemitism continues to reach all-time high levels across the country, JFC Security, LLC, which is the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s security provider, and area law enforcement have devised security plans intended to provide the surrounding area’s over 100 Jewish facilities with the appropriate security so that community members can enjoy the High Holy Days safely.
“We think we’ve got a solid, well thought out plan,” Jim Hartnett, the director of community-wide security at the Federation, told the Cleveland Jewish News Aug. 27. “We’ve invested a lot of resources, in both personnel and enhanced technology, into protecting our community.”
Pushing the community’s security to the next level is the recent creation of a “smart city” concept born out of a public/private partnership. The concept consists of the installation of hundreds of high-definition, artificial intelligence cameras around Jewish institutions and in Jewish neighborhoods and streets. These cameras can assist in the identification of suspicious activity and notify area law enforcement and JFC Security if there is cause for concern.
License plate reader technology and scanners will complement the cameras, which can scan license plates and notify area law enforcement partners if a registered vehicle of concern is in the area.
While this year’s High Holy Days security will be of the most extensive and cutting edge the area has ever seen, Oren Baratz, senior vice president of external affairs at the Federation, stressed that it’s due to an increase in target hardening funds to include thousands of dollars in Department of Homeland Security grants allocated to Jewish agencies to protect their facilities.
“There is more security, but I want to make it very clear that this is because we have more capability and we can now provide a higher level of security service to the community,” Baratz told the CJN Aug. 27. “It’s not because there’s a higher or different level of threat. We need to be on guard every day, not just for the Jewish holidays.”
On the topic of any possible concerns, Baratz said that at this time, JFC Security has not noticed any specific threats or higher levels of threat compared to earlier in the year or years prior.
Hartnett said JFC Security performed an analysis looking at all area synagogues to assist them with their security planning for this year’s services. Whether they will be hosting services in-person or virtually, JFC Security will assist in making sure Jewish facilities are covered with appropriate security support.
JFC Security continues to work closely with area federal, state and local law enforcement partners to share any relevant threat information for appropriate investigative follow-up.
Recently, the Northeast Ohio Regional Fusion Center prepared a “2021 High Holiday” Special Event Threat Assessment to increase situational awareness among area law enforcement personnel on the upcoming Jewish holidays. This assessment will aid law enforcement in prioritizing protective support measures in and around Jewish facilities and neighborhoods for the month of September.
JFC Security works with the NEORFC each year to develop this document in order to alert all area law enforcement that the Jewish community is going to be very visible and active for the next couple of weeks, and that all area law enforcement should be on high alert around Jewish facilities for any type of suspicious activity and prioritize any reports of antisemitism.
Officer Jamey Appell, a public information officer for the Beachwood Police Department, said Beachwood police will step up its patrol during the High Holy Days. All officers will be informed to remain on high alert, and there will be an increase in police drive-throughs patrolling the Jewish facilities in the city.
“I’ve been with the city 26 years now, and making sure the Jewish community is safe is something that we’ve always been concerned with,” Appell told the CJN Aug. 27. “Even if there’s no credible threat, we’re still on a high alert anyway.”
For Jewish facilities using virtual programming for the holidays, Baratz and Hartnett said there are still concerns regarding “Zoombombing,” or outside individuals hijacking video conference calls and interrupting with offensive content. New to Cleveland with the sudden reliance on video conference call applications at the start of the pandemic, Baratz said Zoombombing incidents haven’t occurred in the area in the past 10 or more months.
“Can I say Zoombombing incidents will definitely not happen? No, I can’t say that,” Baratz said. “But I can say that we haven’t seen much of them lately in Cleveland.”
As advice to help the Jewish community stay safe throughout the High Holy Days, Appell, Baratz and Hartnett emphasized that if someone sees something or someone possibly out of the norm, they should report it immediately. This means calling the police or flagging down a police officer or JFC Security member patrolling the area.
“It’s really just being aware,” Appell said. “The Jewish community has been doing this for years, so they know what’s right and what’s not right, what looks suspicious, who shouldn’t be somewhere.”