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Merrick Jewish Centre ramps up security

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In the face of rising anti-Semitism nationwide, coupled with the recent synagogue shooting at the Chabad of Poway in San Diego, the Merrick Jewish Centre, which takes in congregants from Merrick and Bellmore, is instituting new security measures, including armed guards.

This spring, the board of directors approved a new intercom system, fortified doorways, an emergency exit at the children’s playground and armed guards for high-risk occasions.

“This is really based on events that have been occurring around the country,” said Michelle Goldenberg, the synagogue’s executive vice president, referring to several recent mass shootings. “People say, ‘It’ll never happen here.’” But the organization’s main goal, she noted, is to be proactive in keeping congregants safe.

Goldenberg detailed several of the new additions in an Aug. 26 newsletter. The newest is an intercom system that “will change the way all staff, congregants and visitors enter the building.”

Entry into the building will only be granted through the parking lot lobby or front entrance. When security is present, they can wave guests inside.

At other times, a newly installed door buzzer must be rung. An “iPad-type” device will show a camera feed of who is at the entrance, and staff can then release the device’s lock. The intercom will allow guests to state their reason for visiting.

A smartphone application will give select staff and clergy, board members, committee chairs and others swipe access into the building. “The biggest goal is to keep the bad guy out,” Goldenberg said. “Once they’re in the building, it’s all over.”

That objective, Goldenberg added, also includes hardening the perimeter. Doors on the exterior of the building are being replaced — funded by a $150,000 Homeland Security grant acquired by U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice in 2018 — and a locking gate will be installed in the rear of the children’s playground as an emergency exit. All doors will receive new locks as well.

In 2018, Rice announced the acquisition of the funding, which gave nearly $1.2 million to eight Jewish organizations, including MJC.

“As the threat of terrorism continues to evolve, we need to remain vigilant and take the necessary steps to protect potential targets in our community,” Rice said in a news release. “I am pleased that we secured this funding to help enhance security measures and emergency response capabilities at several Jewish nonprofits in our district.”

“This funding will allow us to continue our efforts to protect and secure our building and the members of our community who are here with us each and every day,” said Howard Segal, the MJC president.

This year, Rice also secured $1.7 million for 17 Jewish nonprofits, including Congregation Beth Ohr in Bellmore, and Temple Beth Am and the Chabad Center for Jewish Life, both in Merrick.

Perhaps the biggest deterrent against intruders entering MJC are the armed guards, who will be present during Hebrew school, Shabbat services and other events. Goldenberg could not disclose, however, what weapons they will carry or what company they are with.

“What is most prudent and important is to make a reasonable decision that addresses a perceived risk,” Goldenberg said, adding that the measures were decided upon after extensive risk assessments and community feedback.

A number of synagogues in the Five Towns and West Hempstead now use armed guards, and some have congregants who carry. Following the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh last year, Congregation Tifereth Israel in Glen Cove hired guards to monitor services, as well. This is typically done discreetly, however, particularly for members who carry, according to The Jewish Star Editor Ed Weintrob.

Goldenberg said that security plans for the Merrick Jewish Centre are always an “ongoing effort.”