Anti-Semitism: New Security Chief Aims to Improve Security Measures Among Jewish Institutions in Houston

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) – About 80 Jewish organizations and programs in the Greater Houston area will have a new chief security officer. This comes before the rise of anti-Semitism around the country and the hostage taking at a synagogue in Colleyville more than a week ago.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg gathered more than four dozen law enforcement officials, faith-based leaders and representatives of nonprofits Monday morning to show solidarity against religion-based hatred of the Jewish congregations. Rabbi Oren Hayon, head of the Emanu El Congregation, said it was the third time they had gathered in this fashion in the past three years to speak out against hate against the Jewish community.
“We at the District Attorney’s Office are doing all we can to reduce the time police spend in court for misdemeanors so they can take to the streets to stop violent crime,” Mr. Ogg said. “We want to see more officers on the streets so they can patrol the areas near houses of worship to prevent hate crimes. We will not tolerate hate in our district. .”

The press conference also announced a new director of security through the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston. Renee Wizig-Barrios, the nonprofit’s executive director and president, said the new addition was made possible by a generous anonymous donor who will fund the position for three years. five.

RELATED: Anti-Semitism is on the rise in South Texas with 6 incidents reported in the first month of 2022

The security director will act as a security consultant, liaison and training coordinator for the community. Wizig-Barrios said it will meet with Jewish institutions (synagogues, day schools, etc.) and law enforcement to facilitate the necessary training and assessments. They will thus help strategically establish a holistic approach to community security.

“The alternative is to have every individual organization come up with its own standards and hire its own experts. With this, we have a single point from which intelligence and guidance can be can be disseminated from our federal and local law enforcement agencies,” said Rabbi Hayon. “They can make sure we’re all on the same page in what we need to do, using up-to-date best practices.”

In interviews after the January 15 hostage incident, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of Beth Israel Congregation in Colleyville claimed they received security training because he and three other members of the congregation had can escape safely.
Last week, Rabbi David Lyon of Beth Israel Congregation told ABC13 that the cost of implementing security plans could be crippling for some synagogues, both large and small. Rabbi Hayon says their annual costs at Emanu El Congregation for safety measures have increased in the six-digit range. To help offset some of the financial burden, the Department of Homeland Security provides grants.

By 2021, the Department of Homeland Security has provided $1 million to eight local Jewish organizations, Wizig-Barrios said. Emanu El Congregation has been one of the grant recipients in previous years, but note that the application and grant process can be difficult. That’s where the new chief of security can help reduce those barriers and guide synagogues through the registration process.

“I’m encouraged and gratified by the fact that we’re taking this step in Houston. It’s really an important and perhaps long-overdue step for us, as other cities have Do-Do communities. The big Thai has played this role,” said Rabbi Hayon, “It gave me more peace of mind, like knowing we have a fire extinguisher, markings in the parking lot and marking the road for people to cross safely. whole.”

Southwest Anti-Defamation League (ADL) recorded a total of 11 anti-Semitism incidents in their region last year. So far this year, they have had six reports, ADL said.

Their area stretched from El Paso at the western end of Texas to Beaumont at the eastern end, and all headed south. Major cities in the region include Houston, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, El Paso, and Beaumont.

Of them latest country report shows 2,024 hate crimes against Jews in 2020 across the country, the third highest on record since 1979. Since 2016, Jews have been the target of at least 21 conspiracies extreme or credible threats, two of which occurred in Texas (Colleyville in January 2022 and Harlingen in June 2019). Although Jews make up 2 percent of the nation’s population, experts say they account for about 60 percent of crimes committed by religion.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston hopes to have the position of chief security officer within the next 90 days.

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Dais Johnston

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