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Saturday, October 16, 2004

Security in the Synagogue

While walking home from shul (synagogue) last night, I ran into a neighbour of mine. He told me that for the first time, he davened (prayed) elsewhere. Why? Well, our shul has had security guards guarding the place every Shabbos for a while now and also inspect everyone's bags before letting them in. My neighbour, on principle, refuses to let them search his talis bag. This time they refused to let him in. He was obviously quite upset saying it is an indignation that he, who has davened there for the past 18 years, should be refused entry into his own shul by some security guard. So, that brings me to the basic question and that is, does a shul in Toronto need security guards every Shabbos? What risk are they guarding against? A friend of mine commented on this a while ago and said that such security comes more from paranoia and not from valid security concerns. He also said that your basic security guard was someone who "couldn't cut it as a cop" and thus did not feel confident in their guarding abilities. (I'm sure that if a security guard is reading this he'll probably feel that that is an unfair generalization.) The standard reason given as to why the shul has security guards is that the increased tension in the Middle East and Israel and a general rise in anti semitism warrants it. But in Toronto, aside from a few incidents of anti semitic graffitti on houses, overturned tombstones, and broken windows in synagogues, everything has been relatively quiet. What would a security person be preventing exactly? At the very least, the security guards should not have to check bags.What are they expecting someone to bring in? A bomb? A gun? What are the chances of that happening? What are the chances of someone dressing up as an Orthodox Jew, carry a talis bag, and hide a bomb in it in the city of Toronto? Not very likely, I'd say. Update: Miriam of Bloghead weighs in on the issue of security in shul.


  • There have been several known (but not publicised) security incidents at shuls in the Toronto area. One or two were extremely serious.

    Furthermore, there are two synagogues in Toronto that are known to have been on target lists from foreign terrorist organizations (as well as one in Ottawa).

    In some cases, just seeing a guard will keep a threat at bay.

    In any case, the regular security guards at BAYT know most of the members and are pretty good at determining who should not be there. On Yom Kippur this year they stopped at least one person who should not have been on the premises (he was nuisance level not a threat, but anyhow).

    The only option as far as "professional" security is to use well trained volunteers who really know the congregants. There is no substitute for figuring out who is supposed to be there and who not.

    As an addendum, both Toronto and York Region Police Departments have promised 30 second to 1 minute response for calls from BAYT. They take the potential threat very seriously.

    Bombs inside the building are a low risk, due to the constant flow of people going in and out. More likely would be one of the following: a)car bomb, b)handgun or rifle attacks, c)long range mortar or missile attack. I'm not going to go into counter-terror strategy here, but the security apparatus in Toronto are aware of these possibilities and have strategies in place to counter them.

    I suggest that people who are conscious of this issue take it up with the security committees of their respective shuls. There are many ways in which people can get involved in making their community a safer place.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:36 PM  

  • The person at the BAYT was a missionary who wanted to hand out flyers on Rosh Hashana. When he was refused entry by the guard, he tried pushing past and that's when he got into trouble.

    By Blogger Avrom, at 6:19 PM  

  • Reminds me of a funny story I heard a few years back.

    Some nudnick drug smuggler figured that if he dressed up as a hassid and drove an old station wagon through the border, nobody would bother searching him.

    The guards caught on to it immediately.

    His mistake?

    It was Yom Kippur!

    Good thing the border guards get culture sensitivity training. LOL!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:37 PM  

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