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DC Rabbi And Imam Look At Security Procedures After Synagogue Shooting

In the wake of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, leaders of many faiths are looking at implementing new security procedures.
Posted at 8:06 PM, Oct 31, 2018

Jewish leaders and leaders of all faiths are grappling with a new sense of normal: The knowledge that their house of worship could be attacked following the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

"It's sad to say this is where we are. This has been a big shift in the psyche of the jewish community," said Gil Pruess of The Jewish Federation.

The shooting that left 11 people dead on Shabbat isn't the first time the community has dealt with this problem. After Sept. 11, Gil Preuss of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington says Jewish and Muslim communities in D.C. were forced to harden their facilities.

"There was a lot of capital improvements: security, adding cameras, etc. Now that's a basepoint that we need to to take that second level, like security guards, to make sure people feel safe," Pruess added.

Rabbi Bruce Lustig of Washington Hebrew Congregation says since 9/11, Jewish children have had to learn how to shelter in place at their religious school despite security outside. But Lustig says he's taken specific measures to make sure these young children feel safe coming to learn about their heritage.

"I was very clear that I want our doors to be open when our religious school is in session because I don't want them to have to buzz in. I'd rather have an armed officer outside so children can walk in, because the idea of standing and buzzing yourself into a religious institution seems to go against this," Lustig said. 

Lustig says this strategy will not change, but others will. Many of the changes, congregants will never know about. 

"It's a fine line because you want to make people feel secure but you also don't want them to feel like it's unsafe to come to a place of worship. So there's all sorts of things we do," the rabbi said. "We've had a high level of security, and many institutions, there's what's seen and unseen, and we don't talk about it because it doesn't help your security in that sense."

While this attack didn't happen on the Muslim community, Imam Mohamed Magid, who is the executive Imam of the ADAMs Center in Virginia, says it may well have. He's planning immediate changes to security in his facilities.

"Already, we're going to increase security in the mosque. We have a school here. They're going to have security all day. It's really troubling to me. A person coming to the mosque to pray or to synagogue to pray and they have to think about their safety. It's really troubling to me that we've come to this point," the imam said.

The reality is that what works for one synagogue or house of worship may not work for another. The size of the congregation, the location, the funding are just a few of the factors considered when deciding best security practices. But the bottom line is these religious leaders don't want safety to be a factor in whether someone decides to worship, no matter who they pray to.