Terror at Texas Synagogue Puts Temples on Alert

First published in the Jan. 21 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

Jewish temples across the San Gabriel Valley took pause and breathed a sigh of relief after the safe release of four people who’d been taken hostage while in the midst of a Sabbath service at their synagogue last Saturday in Colleyville, Texas.
It was also another occasion for temples in the area to assess security procedures and review work with law enforcement agencies as well as county terrorism department officials.
In response to the latest terror attack, Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock on Sunday established an emergency response task force that will establish best practices and protocols in dangerous situations.
Temple President Maxwell Clifford Barbanell said the congregation was recently a target of a series of tweets from an individual in North Carolina who threatened violence.
“Luckily for us, the FBI and local law enforcement agencies acted quickly to apprehend the author of the tweets and deemed it not to be a credible threat at that time,” Barbanell said. “While anti-Semitism continues to climb in the U.S., it is important for us to remain vigilant and do everything within our community.
“We have taken many steps over the last years to protect our campus, making it a more secure one by installing a new security camera system and looking into ways we can improve access to the Temple grounds.”
Four people were held hostage for about 12 hours on Saturday in an incident authorities labeled a terrorist attack. The hostage-taker, who was identified as a British citizen, was shot and killed after the victims ran to safety. The FBI is continuing to examine evidence, according to news reports.
Texas authorities credited the congregation for acting calmly, a response helped by having an advanced discussion and plan to deal with such situations.
“Personally, it is exceptionally painful to see a fellow Reform rabbi held captive,” said Rabbi Jason Rosner, a South Pasadena resident. “Anyone who sets their feet on the path toward the rabbinate knows that something like this could happen to them one day.
“Many of us (including myself and members of my synagogue) have served in the United States in uniform and in positions of civic leadership,” he said. “No one should have the peace of their Sabbath trampled, whether they observe it on Saturday, Sunday or Friday.”
Rabbi Chaim Hanoka, who oversees seven Chabad rabbis across the San Gabriel Valley and who is one of the chaplains for the Pasadena Police Department, said that communications always remain open between law enforcement and the local Chabad. Hanoka noted that what he called the “global Chabad network” also provides quick updates on anti-Semitic incidents around the world.
“We do training and we are as vigilant as we can be,” Hanoka said. “What we do is constantly open to being re-examined and being bolstered as need be.”
Hanoka said that he has not received any recent threats to any of the localities in the San Gabriel Valley, but he said that Chabad keeps a “constant line of open communications with law enforcement officials.”
Chabad has facilities in Arcadia, Pasadena and soon will locate to South Pasadena, and it also works with the community at the California Institute of Technology.