Friday, Jan. 20, 2023 | 2 a.m.
More than 2,000 antisemitic incidents across the country were reported to Secure Community Network last year, according to Michael Masters, the group’s National Director and CEO.
The numbers rose steadily over the course of the year, with more incidents reported in each month of 2022 than 2021, he said. “Jew hatred,” as Masters bluntly called it, is increasing exponentially.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a new problem — in fact, he noted, it’s a 4,000-year-old one.
“The reason why we have continued to persevere after 4,000 years is because we as a people have not been cowering,” said Masters, whose Chicago-based organization is recognized by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security as the safety and security arm of the Jewish community in the U.S. “We don’t cower to the fear. We have been willing to stand up.”
Masters was in Las Vegas this week to address the community at Jewish Nevada’s annual meeting. The statewide Jewish federation has partnered with the Secure Community Network the past few years to implement and execute a comprehensive security program for the community, said Stefanie Tuzman, president and CEO of Jewish Nevada.
The rise in antisemitic rhetoric nationwide is reflected in Nevada, Tuzman said, so partnering with the Secure Community Network is a proactive response to “not a matter of if,” but of “when” something happens.
“And so we wanted to create this blanket of security over our state, where all of our agencies and institutions are working together; they’re talking to each other,” Tuzman told the Sun. “So that — God forbid — when something does happen, we’re prepared.”
The goal of the Secure Community Network — which, according to its website, works across 146 federations, 50 partner organizations and 300 independent communities in the U.S. — is to create a best-practice, baseline security plan ensuring that no matter what facility someone walks into, they are safe and secure, Masters said.
He pointed to a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, where a hostage situation occurred last year. The survivors of that event noted that the training they had received from the Secure Community Network helped them stay alive, Masters said.
There’s no telling what synagogue or other Jewish institution could be the target of such an attack, Masters said, so proactively training all of them is critical.
“The approach — which is not taking a one-off but training the entire community in a standardized way — paid its dividend,” he said.
In Nevada, Masters said, the Secure Community Network has worked proactively to prevent antisemitic rhetoric or attacks by working with Jewish Nevada to hire a regional security adviser, Beth Lamanna, who can act as an on-site liaison between the community and law enforcement.
He cited one instance in which an individual who was stopped by a security guard at a synagogue referenced mass attacks happening nationwide, implied he would be back and then left. The synagogue reported the incident, and Lamanna immediately responded to coordinate with law enforcement and identify the individual and any threat he posed.
The Secure Community Network also has analysts monitoring online spaces, Masters said. He used an example from August 2022, in which two individuals communicating openly on Twitter about undertaking attacks against the Jewish community were identified, located and arrested in a matter of days. One of those individuals, Andrew Gorrelick, was in Las Vegas, Masters said.
Social media has made the current threat environment a challenging one, Lamanna said. But people are beginning to understand that if they report antisemitic incidents, she said, action will be taken.
“They see that connection between a report and an action, and the importance of not just accepting that this is normal,” Lamanna said. “Antisemitism is not normal and … we can no longer just stick our heads in the sand.”
The threat has steadily exacerbated over the past four years, Masters said. However, an awareness or acknowledgment of the rise in antisemitism is not enough, he added. Action must be taken.
“Are we willing to turn off the platforms? Are we willing not to put money in the pockets of the people that are allowing hate to be spread online? Are we willing to forgo the pair of sneakers because the person behind it is repugnant?” he said. “And that, I think, is the trick and the challenge that we still have.”
Jewish Nevada’s goal with safety and security is ultimately to make sure that members of the state’s Jewish community — 76,000-plus people — don’t feel like they have to stay home out of fear, Tuzman said.
“It’s about creating opportunities to come out and to be Jewish and to be involved in our communities — not hide from it,” she said.
Masters said he is honored to lead the Secure Community Network not only for its commitment to security and safety of the Jewish community, but the preservation of religious freedom in the U.S overall.
“We can’t be in a position where any religious group, any faith-based community, is afraid to walk into a house of worship, or is afraid to send their kids to day school or summer camp,” Masters said. “And I think that that’s really what we’re working to do. And in that sense, it’s not tiring — it is energizing.”