Our Community Stood Ready
As this goes to print, our community reflects on an anxiety filled weekend. Since the horror of Charlottesville on August 12 (of neo-Nazis chanting to torch-light on the University of Virginia) and August 13 (the white supremacist march which terrified that Jewish community, left 30 wounded and three killed) we heard rumors that a white nationalist gathering would occur in Richmond. As the former Capitol of the Confederacy, that seemed highly likely. By late August, we were told to expect such a gathering on Shabbat, Saturday, September 16.
Immediately, the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond – which coordinates Jewish community security – set to preparing the Jewish community. The JCRC took meetings with nearly every agency and synagogue. In those meetings, we discussed each institute’s relationship with the police and offered suggestions on how to best prepare. We shared lessons learned from Charlottesville. We answered questions and strengthened our community. The JCRC hosted a security training for synagogue ushers and greeters which was taught by Richmond Police Academy Commander, Captain Harvey Powers. The training was attended by every synagogue in our area. The JCRC also hosted a Jewish Community Security Forum. That forum assembled leadership from every Jewish agency, synagogue and organization and a panel of law enforcement officers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Virginia State Police, Richmond City, Henrico, Chesterfield, Hanover counties and Virginia Commonwealth University. Representatives of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the office of the Virginia Secretary of Homeland Security and Resilience, and Henrico County of Emergency Management and Goochland County Sheriff’s Office participated as well. In our role of convening the community, we ensured every agency and synagogue had the contacts they needed to weather the upcoming storm.
In particular, the JCRC forged a deep bond with the Richmond City Police Department. They shared their threat assessment and what they expected; we shared our community contacts – citywide – to ensure that the greater community would be as secure as possible. We worked closely with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Secure Community Network (SCN). SCN is the official Homeland Security initiative of the Jewish community, under the auspices of the Jewish Federation of North American and Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Through the ADL’s Center on Extremism we tracked which white supremacist groups might descend on Richmond and with SCN we ensured our agencies and synagogues were appraised of national best-practices. In advance of Sept. 16, SCN’s Senior National Security Advisor, Doron Horowitz, arrived in Richmond. He was briefed by this office and the Richmond Police Department. Together we visited Jewish sites city-wide and finalized our plans. SCN provided both guidance from their national office prior to Sept. 16 and in-person expertise that weekend.
The weekend was much quieter than anticipated. The alt-Right did not make big showing and the neo-Nazis stayed away. The Richmond Police (along with the support of every one of the above mentioned government agencies) were very well prepared and did a stellar job of keeping the peace while allowing for peaceful assembly.
Nevertheless, a known local anti-Semite with a criminal past choose to approach one of our local synagogues. He came armed, with a friend and he was videoing the synagogue. I immediately identified him. A synagogue representative, two Richmond Sheriffs and I immediately approached him. The police were notified immediately and rather than engage, the anti-Semite left quickly on foot. This office proceeded to send a Flash Notification to the rest of the Jewish Community Security Leadership Group. This increased awareness led to still further increased patrols by local law enforcement (in all local jurisdictions) of Jewish sites.
Our heightened community-wide security posture, quick reaction and collaborative effort averted a known trouble-maker and kept our community safe. This weekend proved what this office and SCN have taught all along: a tight partnership with our first responders and law enforcement combined with proper planning will keep our community safe and as secure as possible.
The JCRC, on behalf of the JCFR, thanks all those community members who participated in securing our community and thanks the men and women who gave up their Saturday (and countless other weekends, nights, etc.) keeping our community safe and secure.
Daniel “Doni” Fogel is the director of Jewish community relations and Israel and overseas programming for the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond. He also serves as coordinator of Jewish community security. Reach him at 804-545-8626 or DFogel@JewishRichmond.org.