Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg met Monday morning with more than four dozen law enforcement officials, religious leaders and representatives of nonprofit organizations to show solidarity against religion-based hatred towards Jewish congregations. Rabbi Oren Hayon, who heads Congregation Emanu El, said it was the third time they had come together in this way in the past three years to speak out against hatred towards the Jewish community.
“We at the district attorney’s office are doing everything we can to reduce the time police have to be in court for minor offenses so they can be on the streets preventing violent crimes,” said Ogg. “We want to see more officers on the streets so they can patrol areas near places of worship to prevent hate crimes. We are not going to tolerate hate in our county.”
The press conference also announced a new director of security through the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston. Renee Wizig-Barrios, CEO and president of the nonprofit, said the new addition is made possible by a generous anonymous donor, who will fund the post for three years.
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The Director of Security will act as an expert security advisor, liaison and training coordinator for the community. Wizig-Barrios said they will meet with Jewish institutions (synagogues, day schools, etc.) and law enforcement to facilitate necessary trainings and assessments. As a result, they will help strategically implement a holistic approach to community safety.
“The alternative is for each individual organization to set its own standards and hire its own professionals. With this, we have a single point from which information and advice can be disseminated by our federal and local law enforcement agencies. “said Rabbi Hayon. . “They can make sure we’re all united in what we need to do, using best practices that are up to date.”
In interviews following the January 15 hostage-taking incident, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville attributed their security training to the fact that he and three other members of his congregation were able to escape safely.
Last week, Rabbi David Lyon of Congregation Beth Israel shared with ABC13 that the price of implementing security plans can be crippling for some synagogues, large and small. Rabbi Hayon said their annual costs to Congregation Emanu El for security measures were in the six-figure range. To help offset some of the financial burden, the Department of Homeland Security offers grants.
Wizig-Barrios said that in 2021, the Department of Homeland Security provided $1 million to eight local Jewish organizations. Congregation Emanu El has been one such recipient in recent years, but noted that the process of applying for and obtaining this funding can be difficult. This is where the new director of security can help break down those barriers and guide Jewish congregations through the application process.
“I’m encouraged and pleased that we’re taking this step in Houston. It’s a really big and probably late step for us, since other cities with significant Jewish communities have already implemented this role,” said Rabbi Hayon. gives me greater peace of mind, as does knowing we have fire extinguishers, stripes in our parking lot, and crosswalks for people to cross the street safely.”
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Southwest recorded 11 total incidents of anti-Semitism in their region last year. So far this year, they’ve already had six reports, ADL says.
Their area extends from El Paso on the western end of Texas to Beaumont on the eastern end, and all points south. The main cities in the region are Houston, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, El Paso and Beaumont.
Their latest national report shows 2,024 hate crimes against Jews in 2020 across the country, which is the third highest on record since 1979. Since 2016, Jews have been targeted in at least 21 extremist plots or credible threats, two of which occurred in Texas. (Colleyville in January 2022 and Harlingen in June 2019). Although Jews make up 2% of the national population, experts said they account for around 60% of religiously motivated crimes.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston hopes the security director position will be filled within the next 90 days.
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