OP-ED: The year of living dangerously

A year ago, the New Orleans area Jewish community was challenged to come to terms with anti-Semitic tropes spray-painted on the exterior walls of the Northshore Jewish Congregation by white supremacists.

Only a month later, though, the reality of how perilous our safety had become was made abundantly clear in the lingering smell of cordite and the cacophony of loud automatic gunfire as shots rang out within the interior walls of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. In the wake of a hail of hate-sparked bullets, 11 innocent Jews lay dead while at prayer.

Our forebears came to these shores for the promise of freedom to practice our religion without intimidation or retribution and for the opportunity to improve our lot financially.

Both the sanctity of Shabbat and the promise of an American haven free from pogroms and killings were forever shattered that day.

This was the deadliest attack against Jews on American soil. Exactly six months later, another similar attack occurred at the Chabad Center of Poway, California. This time a Jewish wife and mother, selflessly trying to shield another, was senselessly killed.

We went from being a concerned and discomfited people to being scared, frightened and anxious. And with a marked rise in anti-Semitism, we have a legitimate right to worry.

In the days and weeks following the Pittsburgh attack, the Secure Community Network revisited its contingency plans and security for all of the member Jewish Community Centers and both the Jewish Federations of North America and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) sprang into action to update and improve security at area synagogues and other Jewish institutions.

Locally, a large grant from the Oscar J. Tolmas Charitable Trust was given to all area synagogues and JCCs as a means of stepping up security and ensuring the safety of Jews engaged in worship services. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff increased patrols in the West Esplanade Avenue corridor and the New Orleans Police Department also increased its vigilance against would-be attackers.

Under the sage guidance of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans and with the assistance of leaders from Jewish Family Service and the South Central Regional Chapter of the ADL, a local effort was initiated to implement a community alert system to notify congregations and institutions of emergency situations such as an active shooter on premises.

That nascent system, while not fully implemented, has just gone operational and will be another tool in our arsenal against anti-Semitism and hate. To all those involved, we extend a hearty thanks for their efforts.

What the Jewish year of 5780 will portend, we cannot say. We pray and hope that the worst is over, but in a climate of highly-charged politicization in which extremists on both sides lead the dialogue, there is always a danger that a radicalized shooter could take out his frustrations and his rage again on innocent Jews.

This new community alert system is a welcome first step and appropriately timed to become operational at Rosh Hashanah, signaling the beginning of a new year and, perhaps, the end of our year of living dangerously.

L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu (“May you be inscribed for a good year.”) and may we go from strength to strength.

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