Local Jewish institutions are being urged to be vigilant in the wake of the thwarted Yemen bomb plot, in which two air-freight packages containing explosive material were addressed to synagogues in Chicago.
“We have urged Jewish institutions to increase their mailroom security by ensuring all the packages they receive are examined prior to being opened, especially if they come from overseas,” said Etzion Neuer, New Jersey regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
In a phone interview, Neuer said the thwarted bomb plot should not create panic but should be a reminder for institutions to “be more careful, to review their security plan, or, in some cases, to create their security plan.”
Neuer spoke on Nov. 1, three days after authorities announced the packages had been intercepted before they could do damage. Officials also searched several cargo planes at Newark Liberty International Airport with cargo from Yemen on board. No explosives were found during those searches.
In the local community, officials are heeding Neuer’s words.
Stanley Stone, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, said he participated in a national ADL conference call Nov. 2 centering on security matters and invited all communal agencies to take part.
He met with Barak Herman, executive director of the JCC of Central New Jersey, to review security at the Wilf campus in Scotch Plains and said he planned to discuss the issue at the federation’s campus headquarters at a meeting with leaders scheduled for Nov. 2.
Stone said he has “alerted all of our local agencies and synagogues to be confident in terms of their security procedures. We have a procedure in place to check all parcels and deliveries, particularly if we don’t know where they are coming from. We know our UPS delivery person, and we want people at the federation to let us know they are expecting something and where it is coming from.
“It is a constant update, and we are constantly keeping our eyes and ears open,” Stone said.
The Jewish Educational Center schools in Elizabeth also reviewed its mailroom and emergency procedures.
“We reiterated to people who sort the mail to watch out for suspicious packages,” said JEC executive director Steven Karp. “We are also in the middle of doing our drills. State law mandates us to do safety drills as well as fire drills. We do one fire drill and one safety drill a month at each of our schools.”
The precautions — already in place in many of New Jersey’s Jewish institutions — came as officials of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security arrived in Chicago to confer with Jewish leaders there and across the country. They were working closely with the Chicago Jewish federation, according to Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Secure Community Network, developed by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in 2005 to coordinate security at Jewish institutions.
“SCN is monitoring the situation on a national basis,” said Goldenberg.
Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press on Oct. 31, the Obama administration’s deputy national security adviser said there might be more mail bombs like the two discovered last Friday, which were believed to be the work of an Al Qaida faction in the Arabian Peninsula.
“They are a dangerous group,” said John Brennan. “They are a determined group. They are still at war with us, and we are very much at war with them. They are going to try to identify vulnerabilities that might exist in the system.”
The ADL’s Neuer concurred.
“People have to take responsibility for themselves,” he said. “At the end of the day, it is the people who use the institutions who know them best. They know when something is out of place, if a package looks unusual, whether someone belongs. Anything that seems out of place should trigger a call to local police.”
The ADL’s security manual, which advises institutions on guarding their people and their premises, is available on its website at www.adl.org/security/new_guide.