SEATTLE — Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) nationwide ramped up their security after a July 28 fatal shooting at the Greater Seattle Jewish Foundation in downtown Seattle.
Thirty-year-old Naveed Afzal Haq opened fire on the JCC charitable foundation with two semiautomatic pistols, killing one person and injuring five others. Police charged Haq with murder and attempted murder and held him on a $50 million bail. According to reports from authorities, Haq was angry about the war in Iraq and U.S. military cooperation with Israel.
In response to the Seattle shooting, the national JCC office in New York organized two conference calls for the leaders of JCCs in the United States and Canada. At least 25 JCC executives joined the calls to discuss security measures in their facilities. The national JCC office as well as representatives from the Community Security Network advised JCCs to keep in contact with local law enforcement officers, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security and to stay on top of alerts in their areas, says Miriam Rinn, JCC spokesperson.
Rinn says JCCs across the country are trying to make their facilities as secure as possible. Many of the JCCs are reviewing their existing security plans to ensure they are working and up to date. Other JCCs are beefing up security in different ways.
“Some of the JCCs are limiting access to the building to one entrance to better control access,” Rinn says. “Others are checking photo IDs of guests and visitors, where they may not have done that two months ago.”
The Gordon Jewish Community Center in Nashville, TN, hired two full-time security officers to guard the fitness center and pool.
“If someone is looking to do harm, they'll look for a soft target,” says Ed Finkelstein, executive director of the Nashville JCC. “If it's a security-conscious institution and there's a good chance of them being caught, they'll go somewhere else.”
The Nashville JCC has never had any direct threats against it, but Finkelstein says it's important to be prepared.
“Anytime there is a Jewish institution, we're thinking about security,” he says. “We're ready to respond if there's a chance we'll be threatened. Our utmost concern is the safety of our members.”
Every JCC is taking steps to improve security in some way, says Barry Weifer, executive director of the Memphis JCC, who participated in the conference call.
Rinn says overall, JCC managers are remaining calm.
“I did not get a sense of panic from the JCCs, but I think people feel that anything can happen anywhere,” she says.