Safety & Security Update – August 18, 2023

Dear TOS Community,

On Friday evening (August 18, 2023), a local synagogue, Temple Beth Zion (TBZ), in Washington Square in Brookline, was the target of a bomb threat via a phone call. Brookline Fire, Brookline Police, Boston Police, and the State Police Departments responded to the call, conducted a search, and confirmed that there was, in fact, no bomb. Although Shabbat services were disrupted while the TBZ building was evacuated, the members of the congregation followed protocol and were safe throughout the incident in part due to community security and preparedness training (click here to attend an upcoming security workshop). This disturbing episode is one in a recent wave of “swatting”, hoax phone call threats, meant to terrorize Houses of Worship, including many synagogues, during their times of communal worship. We are grateful that no one was hurt at TBZ.

In an unrelated incident, our synagogue’s pride flag was ripped off our Beacon Street fence early Friday morning. We have our flag there as a symbol of acceptance, equality, and love for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This act of vandalism is disheartening and goes against the values of inclusivity, respect, and harmony that our community holds dear. Upon viewing the video surveillance, the Brookline Police made an initial determination that this was a random act and malicious destruction of property. We will take a unified stance against hatred and tolerance and hang a new flag, representing our commitment to creating a safe and welcoming space for everyone who enters our synagogue, as well as an expression of our support for the LGBTQ+ community.

We maintain close communication and regular contact with our security and safety partners, Brookline Police, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, and Secure Community Network, to ensure the safety of our community. The Police have shared with us their commitment to “conducting thorough and cautious responses to these incidents to ensure the utmost safety of our community.” One of the current recommendations is for us to reduce our virtual and social media presence. Therefore, beginning this Friday, we will no longer be broadcasting our Erev Shabbat Services on Facebook and YouTube. As we are committed to being as inclusive as reasonably possible, we will continue to make virtual services available on Zoom and Livestream. Your weekly TOS newsletter will have the links for our virtual Shabbat services and other offerings.

In the coming weeks, our teachers and staff will take part in extensive preparedness training. Additionally, as a reminder, we have a plain-clothes security professional on-site for several hours each day including all Shabbat services thanks to a pilot grant from the state of Massachusetts. The grant program ends on September 30, 2023. In the coming weeks, we will assess this pilot and make some difficult decisions about the necessity and costs of on-site security personnel.

Safety is a communal responsibility – each and every member of the community is a critical part of the safety and security procedures at Temple Ohabei Shalom. We need your help in advance of the coming High Holy Days, click here to volunteer to be a High Holy Day usher or greeter.

As a reminder:
• If you see something out of the ordinary, stop in the office to let us know.
• Do not prop open the doors to the building, and do not allow people you do not recognize in the doors. Although it can feel unfriendly not to hold the door for someone, it is always wise to be cautious.
• All people seeking entry to our building will be screened at the door. We do not open the door unless we know who is there – a necessary precaution.

We are so thankful to our community partners, the Brookline Police Department, and to CJP for their continued partnership and support. And thanks to all of you for being our partners in this sacred endeavor of keeping our beloved community safe and secure. As always, I am available if you have any questions or concerns.

Shari Churwin
Executive Director of Education and Administration