Sadly, the welcoming and accessible environment of houses of worship makes them easy targets for those looking to do harm. This, coupled with the current rise in antisemitism, places our synagogues in a vulnerable situation. Many have hired trained guards to secure their premises, these guards do not necessarily know the communities they are protecting. To ensure that we can all practice our fundamental right to observe our religion in a secure environment, it’s vital that synagogue support personnel also contribute to enhancing the safety of their facilities.
The most obvious people to take on this role are the greeters and ushers who welcome congregants, are generally enmeshed within the congregation, know the environment, and recognize people, behaviors, and the general atmosphere of their facilities. The position of greeters and ushers as representatives of the synagogue, meeting, mingling with, and assisting congregants, puts them in a position to observe the environment, assess any unusual or concerning situations, and respond appropriately.
The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has put forward the OHNO (Observe, Initiate a Hello, Navigate the Risk, and Obtain Help) approach to aid greeters and ushers in their responsibility of contributing to the collective safety of their synagogues. Their informational document, The Power of Hello Guide for Houses of Worship, begins by describing the activities and behaviors that may be questionable or suggestive of criminal intent. This is followed by an explanation of how the word “hello” spoken to an unknown or suspicious person can provide an opportunity to observe behavior, establish a connection, and even defuse a situation before it turns hostile. Next, navigating the risk encourages greeters and ushers to consider the context of the observations and interactions with a suspicious individual and to mentally assess the situation. And finally, obtaining help includes getting the correct enforcement personnel involved and informing other staff and congregants on the most appropriate actions to take to prevent a violent encounter.
It’s not always easy to reconcile the requirements of providing a feeling of welcome and openness with being vigilant and suitably wary but, with the right training, greeters and ushers can learn how to naturally and seamlessly embed observing and recognizing suspicious behavior into their routine.
Federation will soon offer this training and encourages all synagogues to take advantage of this opportunity to empower their greeters and ushers with the tools to become a vital facet in their overall security system. For more information on this and other security training, contact our Director of Community Safety Training, Thomas ‘Chip’ Michaels, at firstname.lastname@example.org.