The New Reality

by Sharon Rosen Leib April 3, 2017


musings-aprilAs a native of Southern California blessed to live in laid-back coastal communities throughout my life, I never worried much about my personal safety. Times have changed. Now, being a female Jewish journalist equals three strikes against me.

Beyond my own concerns, San Diego’s Jewish community has been on high alert after recent bomb threats to the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center’s (JCC) La Jolla campus. Last month, I attended the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) San Diego Jewish community briefing on anti-Semitism and security to learn what was being done local to protect our institutions.

A national civil-rights organization founded “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all,” the ADL also coordinates with law enforcement agencies. Their security manual, “Protecting Your Jewish Institution: Security Strategies for Today’s Dangerous World,” encompasses a parade of worst-case scenarios: Explosive threat response planning, active shooters, suicide bombers and “a brief look at weapons of mass destruction.” In light of recent events at Jewish institutions around the world, none of these horrors seems excessively far-fetched.

Our synagogue’s executive director now sends emails to reassure members that leadership has established protocols to ensure the safety of everyone from pre-schoolers to seniors. The synagogue board upped membership dues to cover additional security measures. Every member was required to select a unique keypad access code to gain admittance through the steel security gate. An armed guard patrols the synagogue’s perimeter. A wall bordering the synagogue campus blocks the pre-school playground from view. Surveillance cameras monitor the parking lot, gate and playground. We do this so we can pray, celebrate, learn and observe Jewish holidays with some peace of mind.

Recently, I attended the memorial service for a friend’s mother at our local Catholic church. I was struck by the wide-openness of the church’s campus: no security guard; no gates or keypads and no protective walls – in short, no fear. How lovely to be able to send your children for spiritual education in a house of worship without the threat of external menace.

My heart goes out to the families of the JCC pre-school children ranging in age from 18 months to 5 years who’ve had to evacuate the premises during every bomb scare. At the ADL community security briefing, one mother asked the panel of law enforcement officers, “Are our kids safe here?”

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman replied, “I know it’s incredibly upsetting. But we are doing everything possible to keep your children safe.” She urged the community not to be intimidated.

We Jews have been stereotyped and vilified throughout history as a powerful, privileged religious minority. When we must walk past armed guards to celebrate a wedding, attend a prayer service or take our children to pre-school, we do not feel powerful or privileged. We feel anxious. We feel sad mourning our children’s innocence lost. We feel the tragic necessity of accepting these precautions as the new normal in this era of anti-Semitic rancor and increasing threat levels.

I may have three strikes against me but I’m not going to be counted out. As a female Jewish journalist and mother, I’m compelled to speak my truth and carry on. I urge you to do the same.

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