It’s time for synagogues and other local Jewish institutions to check in with Robert Wilson, if they haven’t done so lately.
Mr. Wilson is the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ’s chief security officer. In that capacity, he plays a crucial role in connecting local institutions to the broader security infrastructure of the American Jewish community.
That infrastructure was highlighted in reports from Colleyville that Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and his two fellow hostages were able to escape because Rabbi Cyron-Walker threw a chair at Malik Faisal Akram — an action he took based on security training he had received from the Secure Community Network and other Jewish agencies.
The Secure Community Network was founded in 2004 by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to address the American Jewish community’s security concerns.
And last Saturday morning, it provided real-time updates to Jewish communal professionals across the country — including Mr. Wilson and Dov Ben-Shimon, the federation’s CEO.
“Within moments of this occurring, I was made aware of it and was able to communicate with our federation leaders,” Mr. Wilson said.
He reached out to local law enforcement officials to let them know to be on heightened alert. “The communication was rapid,” he said. “We worked with the New Jersey Department of Homeland Security, with the county officials, and with local police departments.”
He said that the Texas hostage-taking is a reminder for synagogues and other Jewish institutions “of the importance of partnership with the local police department. We have phenomenal local law enforcement in New Jersey, and you need to partner with them and train with them. Make sure they’re aware of your events at your facility. Make sure they’re familiarized with your facility and they’re prepared to respond to any kind of incident that may occur there.”
But institutions should not rely on police alone, Mr. Wilson said. Emergency response training is crucial. He has provided personal training to institutions that want it; other training resources are available on the security section of the federation’s website, at www.jfedgmw.org/community/get-support/security-safety/.
Among the training he recommends is a personal safety and security program that teaches people easy-to-remember and easy-to-employ approaches to hostile encounters. Another one is called hostility, aggression, and rage management. “That’s really relevant here, because when you look at what occurred in Texas, that’s what you had,” Mr. Wilson said. “It started off very calm but shortly thereafter became hostile and aggressive. And the rabbi, through his capacity as a seasoned spiritual leader, has the ability to deal with someone in that kind of crisis stage and he fell back onto his training.”
Mr. Wilson noted that one of the basic ideas of preparedness is “run, hide, fight.
“It’s not necessarily linear,” he said. “In this case, the rabbi saw the opportunity to fight” — by throwing a chair at his captor — “and then to run.
“There’s a statement in emergency training materials we shared with our whole community that punches right through to the issue. It just says, ‘Commit to your actions. The situation is not hopeless.’ That’s what happened here. They committed to their actions in a situation many people would have thought was hopeless.
“It wasn’t hopeless, and the rabbi did not give up hope. And that save their lives. It’s an important thing.”
Mr. Wilson noted that the federation fights antisemitism in many ways; the security coordination and consultation he provides is only one of them. “We have the Holocaust Council that promotes education against antisemitism and a Community Relations Council that builds coalitions within our community and our nation,” he said.
But when it comes to assessing security needs and site vulnerabilities, or obtaining homeland security grants at the state or federal level, Mr. Wilson wants the community to know that “we are here to support them. Reach out. Give me a call. Send me an email. Look at our web page to see what resources we have.
“Work with your local law enforcement to assess your facility and make sure you’re prepared in some way to respond, whether you just review your policies with all your congregants on how to respond to an active shooter incident, or whether you go further and do an actual drill.”
“Now is the time for us all to increase our vigilance and security procedures, while at the same time remembering that great Jewish communities find their strength in resilience and connection,” Mr. Ben-Shimon said.
“Our federation has resources for our agencies and synagogues for their security needs, and together we can work with our law enforcement partners to keep safety and security paramount.
“At the same time, strong, resilient communities don’t give up in the face of hate and terror. They do more. I believe that the answer to hate is more good deeds. More teaching, more community building, more showing up. That’s not just good theology. It’s good sociology. Because actions speak louder than words.
“We build resilient, strong community life by working even harder on tzedakah (justice/charity), chesed (loving kindness), and tikkun olam (repairing the world). These are American values and Jewish values, and they are the work of our Jewish Federation and our Jewish community, day in and day out.“