Office of the Chief of Community Affairs
Informational: The High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah is translated as “head of the year” and is the beginning of the Jewish New Year. This is considered to be a time of devotion and prayer to the Almighty to decree a long, spiritually enriching life, as well as good health and prosperity to all. Rosh Hashanah will be observed this year from sunset, Sunday, September 16th through sundown, Tuesday, September 18th. During this time period, the Jewish religion strictly prohibits many common day activities such as going to work, writing, turning lights on or off, riding in a car, carrying a cell phone and other items such as a driver’s license and credit cards and touching money.
There will be an increase of foot traffic in Jewish neighborhoods during these days as family and friends are commonly invited to others to participate in festive meals. The manner of dress for males during Rosh Hashanah may include a black hat, a long black coat (even in hot weather), and a white prayer shawl with strings attached to the corners. Females may wear expensive jewelry and will be traditionally dressed in clothing of a modest nature.
Synagogues will have prayer services three times each day. Special attention should be given to every synagogue, especially during times of prayer service. Because prayer service times vary with each different congregation, it is important to be in contact with clergy liaisons and other community leaders in order to determine prayer service times for each individual synagogue.
September 12, 2012
Today’s headlines from Libya and Egypt, where American embassies were attacked, suggest a need for increased vigilance in advance of and during the High Holidays. The murder of the American Ambassador to Libya and three of his colleagues in Benghazi may have been planned as revenge for the recent killing of a high-ranking al-Qaeda leader and timed to coincide with the anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. There have also been reports of protests in both Benghazi and Cairo responding to a virulently anti-Muslim video, “Innocence of Muslims,” being promoted on YouTube. The trailer for this video portrays the Prophet Muhammad as a child-molester, and homosexual and a philanderer, and some stories are linking the video to an Israeli-American. Regardless of what triggered the anti-American violence in Libya and Egypt, and who produced the highly offensive video (about which questions are still circulating), the timing of these events and the possibility that they may incite others to violence prompts us to recommend extra precautions.
It is important to emphasize that ADL does not currently have any information regarding a specific threat to any Jewish institution. Nevertheless, we recommend the following action steps – including specific priorities for the high holidays.
- Keep your eyes and ears open for anything unusual or suspicious and call law enforcement immediately if you come across something. Unusual behavior, unwarranted interest in your facility (including unusual traffic patterns), suspicious or unattended packages and strange devices should be promptly reported to the police or security personnel. Advise staff and volunteers to do the same. See ADL’s Guide to Detecting Surveillance of Jewish Institutions.
- Ensure that staff members, including newly hired personnel, and all volunteers know what to do in the event of an emergency.
- Review and practice security procedures. In particular, review with all personnel their role in security. Ensure that your institution’s rules and procedures dealing with who gets into your facility are sufficient and enforced (access control).
- Make sure to use the security devices you have in place and that access controls are being used properly. For example, ensure that communications equipment and video cameras are working and properly used.
- Renew/establish relationships with local law enforcement and discuss security. If you have not established personal relationships with key police personnel, set up a meeting to do so.
- Trust your instincts. If something strikes you as being out of place or problematic, call law enforcement immediately.
For the High Holidays:
- Advise local law enforcement of High Holy Day schedules and special events. In particular, communicate with the police commander of the jurisdiction in which your institution is located.
- Ensure that ushers understand that they play a critical role in security matters (even where there is security staff), as they are often used to control access to the sanctuary and are in a position to spot trouble early.
- Ensure that ushers are familiar with suspicious activity indicators, and encourage them to promptly report anything suspicious to the police or security personnel. Review ADL’s Guide to Detecting Surveillance of Jewish Institutions.
- Establish procedures for keeping people out of your institution who do not belong. It is important to establish policies and procedures well ahead of time so that ushers and others who are reacting to developing situations know how to respond according to pre-determined rules.
- If your institution has hired a police officer or security guard, provide them with specific instructions and identify someone to be their primary contact if they have questions (such as an usher captain).
- Encourage staff, leadership, and constituents to trust their instincts if they come across someone or something suspicious.
- Pre-event publicity for upcoming events should be reviewed in light of security. Potential gains in audience numbers must be weighed against the security concerns created through different types of publicity.
You may refer to ADL’s security manual, Protecting Your Institution, for additional information at ADL’s security website: www.adl.org/security.
Please do not hesitate to contact this office with questions or for further assistance.
- “Access control considerations during high holiday services” (PDF) Dov Horwitz, Security Specialist, JCRC-NY
- “Tips on detecting hostile surveillance” (PDF) Paul DeMatties, Senior Advisor on Corporate Security Programs and Director of the Counter-Terrorism Assessment Program, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
- “Planning for the unexpected: High Holiday edition” (PDF) David Pollock, JCRC-NY
- View a video transcript of these presentations
The presentation by NYPD Director of Intelligence Analysis Mitch Silber on the evolving al-Qaeda threat and its potential impact on the Jewish community is considered confidential by the NYPD and not available.
- JCRC Emergency and Secrurity Planning Tips for the High Holidays (PDF) The High Holidays are a special challenge for synagogues. Find tips for security and emergency planning here.
- ADL Security for the High Holy Days and Other Special Events (PDF)
- Sample Building Access Policies and Procedures (PDF) Learn how to balance the goals of having your institution be both welcoming and secure.
- Emergency Planning: Disaster and Crisis Response Systems for Jewish Organizations published by United Jewish Communities, written by John Jay College of Criminal Justice and JCRC-NY