As has now been widely reported, on Friday, UJA’s Community Security Initiative (CSI) played a critical role in thwarting a potentially deadly attack on New York synagogues.
For background, UJA and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY) launched CSI in 2019, in the aftermath of the Tree of Life massacre. CSI’s charge: to enhance security for New York’s more than 2,000 Jewish institutions. Today, CSI — led by Mitch Silber, former head of NYPD Intelligence — has a 12-person team, including regional security managers and threat intelligence analysts, who spend every day working across the community to help ensure our safety.
It was one of the threat intelligence analysts who sat at her desk Friday morning and uncovered a tweet that threatened to “shoot up a synagogue.” Immediately, CSI alerted the FBI, NYPD, and other local law enforcement and looked further into the suspect’s disturbing social media history. By the end of an intense, nerve-wracking day, MTA police apprehended two suspects at Penn Station carrying a gun, ammunition, a large hunting knife, and a swastika armband.
In other words, CSI fulfilled its primary purpose. It focused in on a threat that might have otherwise gone unnoticed — what might have been the next Pittsburgh or Poway. With relationships already in place, staff could quickly reach out to the right people in law enforcement. Throughout the day, CSI also worked in concert with the Community Security Service (CSS), another UJA grantee that trains volunteers to act as a further layer of protection at synagogues.
And while one tragedy was averted, we are grief-stricken this morning at the news of twin bombings in Jerusalem that killed a 16-year-old boy and injured many others. And the news of a mass shooting in Virginia. And the horrific, hate-fueled shooting at an LGBTQ+ club in Colorado Springs. Powerful reminders of what might have happened here.
More broadly, at a time of sharply rising antisemitism, one “save” is just the beginning — indeed, we need to increase our vigilance. This past Saturday morning, the director of the FBI said that the Jewish community is under threat “from all sides” and "desperately" needs further support, declaring that addressing growing antisemitism should be a national priority. At a press conference I participated in on Monday, which included the mayor, police commissioner, MTA chair, and Manhattan district attorney, among others, many stressed the need for collaboration and increased action in the face of rising antisemitism.
But critically, the point of security is not to barricade ourselves in. The point is to live proudly Jewish lives so we can do more of what matters to us, which this holiday season has included providing food for tens of thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers. We’ve brought hundreds of families together to assemble holiday packages for those in need. And we’ve helped — and will continue to help — thousands of Ukrainian refugees acclimate to new lives in Europe, in Israel, and here in New York, where they can celebrate their first Thanksgiving at UJA-supported agencies.
That we’re able to do all this and more — even in these troubling times — is reason to be grateful. I hope tomorrow as you sit around your tables for the holiday with family and friends, you’ll reflect on your own reasons to be grateful — and that you’ll find them all around you, in abundance.
P.S. Please join us on Monday, December 19, at 5:00 pm, when we’ll put our Jewish pride on display, lighting a menorah in Times Square with the Shine A Light initiative. Particularly now, your participation is important.