By Rabbi Dev Noily, Michael Saxe-Taller, Karen Cohn and Catherine Lyons
Following the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh, Kehilla hosted an Open Door Shabbat. More than 450 people came to welcome Shabbat with us, including allies of every faith who spilled out of the sanctuary, into the lobby, and down the stairs. We made a decision for that night to reach out to have our friends and neighbors join us, rather than to fortify our doors.
We take seriously our responsibility for the safety and security of the Kehilla Community. The shooting as well as the recent air quality emergency resulting from the Camp Fire have reminded us of the importance of community preparation for potential emergency situations.
The issues surrounding safety and security are complex and at Kehilla, we strive to have our actions align with our values. We want to share with you the principles that are guiding our way as we address the safety and security issues in our community.
1) Take reasonable and proportional measures that balance security and welcome.
We are committed to keeping our people and our building safe from possible harm, while maintaining an open and welcoming space that reflects our value of deep hospitality. As a Jewish community, many of us have been exposed to hatred and trauma, and violent events like Pittsburgh (and even small incidents like a flyer near the building) can trigger feelings of panic, vulnerability and an intense need for security. We want to honor those feelings, while staying firmly rooted in the present. We will work to assess real threats and safety concerns, and to prepare accordingly, but not necessarily in the same way that some mainstream Jewish organizations may express an elevated sense of risk and need for protective measures.
2) Prioritize community relationships and solidarity to resist hate, including racism, antisemitism, islamophobia and other forms of hate.
Kehilla has many friends and allies in the Jewish community, the interfaith community, and in progressive community organizing circles. We continue to grow and deepen those relationships, showing up for people when they need us, and calling on them when we need them.
We believe that our security ultimately depends on our place in the larger community of people who are vulnerable, and potentially vulnerable, to identity-based discrimination and violence.
3) Stay mindful of our privilege and use it with intention.
Though our community members are race, class, religion, sexuality and gender diverse, we are a predominantly white and middle class Jewish community. Most of us don’t experience structural injustice that restricts our access to education, health care and social mobility, or that exposes us to police abuse, high rates of incarceration and violence. When our community experiences hateful incidents of virtually any magnitude, it’s easy for us to get supportive attention from media, police and local government. Other people facing threats to their safety can’t get the same kind of attention. Our access to these resources isn’t reason enough to use them. We need to think about how to use this privilege and power, and also how to leverage it to bring more supportive attention and resource to other parts of our community where people need it.
4) Build capacity that minimizes reliance on policing and militarized security systems.
We are part of both local and national coalitions of religious communities who are building community-based safety plans that minimize our reliance on police and other militarized security systems. This includes (a) plans for training members and volunteers in de-escalation, conflict management and emergency response; (b) working with existing community-based security people like Community Ready Corps and (c) developing alternatives to calling police to address the needs of unhoused people, people with mental health issues, and others. For some in our community, police are personally experienced more as a source of harm than of protection. We’ve also seen police militarized against Black citizens and allies in Ferguson, and against Indigenous citizens and allies at Standing Rock. In Oakland, we see police clearing out encampments of unhoused people with nowhere else to go. We have a good relationship with the Piedmont police, but we don’t want to rely exclusively on that relationship for our safety and security, and we want to minimize police presence in and around our community.
We invite you to join us as we address our safety and security needs at Kehilla. We are forming a Safety and Security Task Force and invite any of you who are interested in participating to contact Executive Director, Michael Saxe-Taller. This task force will also work closely with Youth Education Director Rabbi Grey Myrseth in addressing the needs of Kehilla School and our Bar and Bat Mitzvah Program.