Synagogue security changes threaten CB8 meetings

The Tree of Life attack in Pittsburgh is just the tip of the iceberg as anti-Semitism seems to be on the rise, not just in the Bronx, but the rest of the country.

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Community Board 8 can take a deep breath of relief — at least for now — because it won’t lose some of its coveted meeting spots.

The board typically tries to avoid spending taxpayer money on meeting space, and in the past, has been offered space at places like Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale for free. But after last October’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, it started to seem locations like CSAIR may no longer be available.

That’s because several local synagogues like CSAIR and Riverdale Temple on Independence Avenue, have ramped up security in light of a wave of virulent anti-Semitic attacks spreading through not just the Bronx, but in many places around the country. If synagogues like CSAIR were no longer available, it would make finding locations for community meetings even more challenging for CB8.

CSAIR told The Riverdale Press in a statement that CB8 will still be welcome at the West 250th Street synagogue, so long as new security protocols are followed.

What this means for the perennially space-challenged CB8 is that in order to continue holding meetings at CSAIR and some other local synagogues, they’d have to comply with heightened security requirements, including screening people as they arrive. But meeting those requirements appeared, fleetingly at least, like it might be more than the board could muster given its current resources, said land use chair Charles Moerdler.

CSAIR has consulted with both the New York Police Department and various security experts, the synagogue said, and already uses a mixture of paid security and volunteers along with building security system upgrades in an effort to keep the synagogue safe.

CSAIR declined to elaborate on the nuts and bolts of the new requirements, but added that “every synagogue in the country is thinking about their security post-Pittsburgh.”

Moerdler had lauded the synagogue’s new policy as “commendable.” It requires, in part, a person standing watch at the building’s entrance — especially after-hours — identifying and letting people in. As a result, Moerdler and committee co-chairs Martin Wolpoff and Dan Padernacht each took turns standing at the door letting people in at a land use committee at CSAIR earlier this month.

“In effect, we were providing that element of security,” Moerdler said. “That is an impediment for the board because it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the chairmen to be doormen and not be at the meeting. And there is no other way we can fill that void, other than paying for a security guard or finding some alternative — a volunteer who will play that role wherever that security issue arises.”

The entire situation is rooted in what Moerdler sees as a broader, deeper issue that transcends far beyond CB8’s boundaries.

“When you have significant basis for being concerned,” including about security, Moerdler said, “you have to deal with it. Unfortunately, the only way to deal with it is to provide a security element — whether it be a security guard or somebody else — that’s an impediment in terms of so-called community expression.”

The Riverdale Temple also has beefed up security of late, said Rabbi Thomas Gardner, although he, too, declined to go into detail on the new requirements or how exactly they’re being implemented.

“It’s a very unfortunate situation that we find ourselves in today,” Gardner said.

“I wish it were the case that it were not so, but I think with the easy access to weapons that we have now in this country — and a lack of political will to deal with that — to change that, it’s not clear that we’re going to be able to do anything other than (taking extra precautions) for a while.”

For now, Moerdler is glad the board will continue meeting at CSAIR, which has “always been an hospitable venue.”

“Its security concerns are readily understandable,” Moerdler said.

But the bigger problem goes beyond the local synagogues, he said, adding that the incidence of hate crimes has gone up “dramatically.”

“In the forefront of that are anti-Semitic hate crimes,” Moerdler said, but also alarming proliferation of anti-black, anti-Hispanic and anti-Muslim incidents.

“It’s got to stop,” he said. “What we are becoming is a society that has no respect and no civility, and that cannot continue.

“A democratic society can only exist if it’s a civil society.”