Letter | After Poway, My Synagogue Won’t Be Locking Its Doors. We’re Keeping Them Open.
Like anyone who cherishes life and religious freedom, the news of the synagogue shooting in Poway, California a few days ago, was a scary reminder that we live in a nation where the flames of white nationalism burn bright and snuff out lives on an all too regular basis. As the second synagogue shooting in six months, the Poway shooting hammered home the frightening reality that just as Black churches continue to be burned in our nation, the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh can no longer be considered a one time occurrence.
After the Tree of Life shooting, my synagogue, Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, hosted a multi-denominational, inclusive vigil. Hundreds of community members of different races and religious backgrounds came to show their support. We did not consider it necessary to hire security guards for the vigil and we felt safer because so many members of our community came to show their support.
And we maintain that position after Poway.
This despite the fact that a recent article in these pages, entitled American Synagogues Can’t Keep The Doors Open Anymore, Experts Say After Poway, recommend locking synagogue doors, and posting armed guards at those locked doors.
To that, Shaarei Shamayim, says not in our house. We are instituting a new Shomer program, but our shomrim will not be armed, nor will they be guards.
In formulating our congregation’s Safety plan, we agreed upon the value of training, being prepared, rejecting racial profiling, and welcoming diverse people to our community. Our plan acknowledges that we have a responsibility to maintain a safe and welcoming space for our entire community. We understand that hate crimes are one, but not the only, concern to address in our safety plan. Creating a safe community includes planning for health emergencies, extreme weather events, and protecting our children’s safety. This includes coordination with police and emergency services, and other Jewish community organizations.
As Jews, we stand in solidarity with the synagogues and other communities that have been victimized in recent hate-fueled attacks, including mosques in New Zealand, black churches in Louisiana, and churches in Sri Lanka.
We will continue resisting hate by continuing to be a welcoming and open community, not by closing our doors and posting arm guards at our entrance.
Jeff Spitzer-Resnick is the President and a founding Member of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim in Madison, Wisconsin