Synagogues nationwide are working closely with local police and hiring extra security guards for the Jewish High Holy Days, a period of intense personal reflection made more somber this year by the assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Most congregations activate special safety plans during the 10-day period that starts with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and ends with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Security was heightened shortly after terrorists hijacked four commercial jets last week.
Some synagogues were planning to check bags and restrict parking for services starting Monday at sundown.
Few see an imminent threat. But there is concern that--given recent events--synagogues will become targets for hate crimes during the holiday period, the most important time of the year for Jews.
``Security experts have always told us that 75 percent of security in sanctuaries is awareness,'' said David Brook, executive director of Beth El Congregation of Phoenix. ``I think we're all more aware of it this year than other years.''
Brooke said some congregants have called to express concern about security. Yet many rabbis expect greater holiday attendance than usual, as Jews seek comfort in prayer and community after the terrorist onslaught.
Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, a popular synagogue on Manhattan's upper west side, has hired extra security, banned large bags from the sanctuary, and barred cars from entrances to its buildings.
At Congregation Beth Shalom in Oak Park, Mich., tickets distributed to members to reserve a space at new year services will be checked at the door. That's a rare step, said Rabbi David Nelson.
The Park Avenue Synagogue, on the upper east side of Manhattan, began speaking with local police immediately after the attacks. ``We've been advised by the FBI and police not to give out specifics,'' executive director Barry Modlin said.
Rabbi Matthew Eisenberg of Temple Israel Ner Tamid, in the Cleveland suburb of Mayfield Heights, said his congregation has hired an extra officer ``but we're not going to let these terrorists make us prisoners in our own country.''
Two high-profile hate crimes in California two years ago prompted many synagogues to enact the safety plans they are using now.
White supremacist brothers pleaded guilty to setting fire to three Sacramento synagogues and an abortion clinic. In another incident, a white supremacist opened fire at a Jewish day care center in Los Angeles, injuring three boys, a teen-age girl and an older woman.
Baruch Fellner, president of Keshir Israel in Washington, where Sen. Joseph Lieberman has worshipped, said he sees the safety precautions as more beneficial for their ``placebo effect,'' calming congregations unnerved by recent events, than for preventing any violence.
``Given the kinds of actions that terrorists are prepared to take, they cannot be prevented unless they are discovered in advance,'' Fellner said.