In the wake of a devastating attack on civilians in southern Israel, L.A.’s Jewish security forces have risen to the occasion. This article explores how a sense of community and shared responsibility has spurred these forces into action.
The events that unfolded in southern Israel left a profound impact on Jewish communities around the world. However, for L.A.’s Jewish security forces, the attack served as a rallying cry, a call to arms, urging them to take a proactive stance in safeguarding their community. Here, we delve into the reasons, motivations, and actions that emerged in response to this critical moment.
L.A.’s Jewish Security Forces: Who Are They?
Before we discuss their response to the Israel attack, let’s understand who these security forces are. The term "Shmira" comes from the Hebrew word for "guardian." Shmira and similar volunteer organizations worldwide primarily focus on non-emergencies, offering help to those in need, regardless of their faith or background. However, these groups predominantly serve Orthodox neighborhoods, where dense populations, observance of the Sabbath, and religious festivals often result in limited communication.
A Community in Grief
The tragic event in southern Israel was felt deeply in the L.A. Jewish community. Worshipers attending Beth Jacob on Monday night carried with them not only their small books of Hebrew psalms but also a profound sense of shared pain. Shoshana Arunasalam, a member of the synagogue, reflected, "We’re a small community—none of us is more than two degrees from someone who was killed or taken. We feel helpless."
Perceived Danger on Home Turf
The attack in Israel raised concerns about safety even within the L.A. Jewish community. Some individuals reported being advised not to speak Hebrew in public or wear anything that identified them as Jewish. This heightened sense of vulnerability is a common response to Israeli military operations in Gaza or Palestinian civil unrest in the West Bank, which often result in manifestations of hate, both online and in the physical world.
Haroon Azar, a senior fellow at the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations, and former regional director for the Department of Homeland Security, notes the rising online rhetoric against both Jews and Muslims, adding to the general unease across the community.
Escalating Antisemitic Violence
Recent years have witnessed escalating antisemitic violence both nationally and locally. Deadly attacks at synagogues and kosher stores, along with the desecration of Torah scrolls and public assaults on Jewish diners, have left Jewish Angelenos on edge. The community was particularly shaken by an incident where a gunman targeted Iranian Jews, shooting two men on their way to morning prayers.
David Bacall, a member of Los Angeles Shmira, emphasizes that the attack in Israel became a turning point for their organization. Ordinarily responsible for more routine security tasks, they decided to step up their game. Following the call to arms, Bacall and his team went shul to shul, urging community members to remain vigilant and stay informed. He said, "Anytime there’s an attack on one of us, we all need to raise our level of alert."
The immediate response involved patrols and a presence on major streets, enhancing deterrence, and using their powers of observation to identify potential threats.
Recruitment and Solidarity
The plan was initially to regroup after the fall holidays. However, recruitment calls were expedited and circulated through synagogue WhatsApp groups as the community collectively grappled with heightened anxiety. Bacall mentions, "Everyone’s nerves are a little shot." In such a climate, many chose to keep their children home from school and avoided going to shul. Nevertheless, the broader community response saw many people coming together in prayer and solidarity.
In times of crisis, communities often find strength in unity and shared responsibility. The Israel attack has left an indelible mark on L.A.’s Jewish security forces, compelling them to remain vigilant and proactive. As they continue to stand guard, their unwavering commitment to safeguarding their community remains resolute.
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