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EDITORIAL: York JCC shows the right level of caution by increasing security

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Visitors occupy the entryway at the Jewish Community Center Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. The center is applying for grants to secure the area. Bill Kalina photo

The York Jewish Community Center has worked hard to be open and welcoming for all people. 

That mission shows in the design of the facility, with a large lobby area offering easy access to the rest of the building, from meeting rooms to the workout area to classrooms filled with children.

But in this era, that easy access can be a liability as anti-Semitic hate crimes rise and threats become actions. And so the JCC is taking action of its own.

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By the end of the summer, the center plans to invest $300,000 in new safety features,  moving the front desk to ensure everyone who comes into the building registers, and installing security cameras outside the building to better monitor suspicious activities.

It's a good plan, and the JCC is lining up grants to put it into place. But it's a shame that it has come to this.

The York Jewish community has weathered its share of hard times. The center received a bomb threat along with more than 100 other Jewish centers and schools in the U.S. in early 2017, with those threats eventually tracked to a teenager in Israel. Later that year, anti-Semitic graffiti was found on a path in Manchester Township. In the 1990s, a pig's head was hung on the door of the Ohev Shalom Congregation.  

But in the wake of recent violent anti-Semitic crimes, from the shooting that killed 11 worshipers at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in November 2018 to the gunfight that killed three people at a kosher store in New Jersey along with a police officer, and the two shooters last month to the Hanukkah attack at a New York rabbi's home, the Jewish community is taking proactive steps to protect themselves.

"Even small towns and suburban areas can be subject to attack, and you can never predict where (or) when it will come and surprise you," said Dani Fessler, CEO of the York JCC. "We should never surrender to any kind of threats or attacks to change our life. So, we need to be strong, and the thing that we need to do is prepare."

A visitor exits the Jewish Community Center Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. The center is applying for grants to secure the entryway to the facility. Bill Kalina photo

This is a threat that isn't going away. While overall hate crimes were down slightly in 2018 in the U.S., according to the FBI, hate crimes directed against people, as opposed to property, increased. In fact, violent hate crimes have been increasing each year since 2015. 

In 2018, there were 4,571 violent hate crimes, the highest number since 2002. Those included 24 murders, with 11 of those murders happening at the Tree of Life Synagogue. 

This is not acceptable for us as a society. In 2020, no one should be afraid of practicing their faith in this country. No one should be afraid to walk down the street because of their skin color. No one should be afraid to hold hands with their partner in public. 

There are many people in this country who want anyone they perceive as "other" to live in fear. But there are many more of us who want everyone to be able to live their best lives.

Those of us who are privileged to not be in the minority need to take it on ourselves to show our support for those who might be targeted by hate. We are the ones who need to speak out and say hate crimes are not acceptable, intimidation is not acceptable, belittling others is not acceptable.

We need to say this not because we are better than those who are potential targets, but because we are not.  

"We are making this move out of an abundance of caution," Fessler said.

Unfortunately, the moves at the JCC are an appropriate level of caution. As a society, we need to support measures to make all members of every community safe and also make changes to show that we are better than those who would spread hate.