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Top US officials meet Jewish groups on synagogue security after Texas attack

‘This is not the way it should have to be in America, but unfortunately, it is the way,’ says Attorney General Garland after houses of worship step up protection efforts

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas speaks during a news conference at The National Press Club in Washington, on Sept. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas speaks during a news conference at The National Press Club in Washington, on Sept. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

JTA — Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the United States considers the hostage-taking at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, “an act of terror” and “an antisemitic attack targeting the Jewish community,” according to a Jewish leader who joined a phone call with top US officials Tuesday morning.

Majorkas, Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Chris Wray and other national security officials held a call with major Jewish groups Tuesday to discuss synagogue security concerns in the wake of the week’s hostage crisis in Texas.

The executive director for the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, Nathan Diament, described the discussion to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency as a meeting of around 1,200 synagogue leaders, including representatives from the OU as well as the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Diament also said that representatives at the Union for Reform Judaism and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism had been alerted.

Garland and Mayorkas, both of whom are Jewish, spoke about the personal resonance the attack has had for them, according to a report in the Forward. Mayorkas said he did not get to plant his annual tree for Tu B’Shvat as he normally does.

Garland described seeing police cars in front of his own synagogue. Garland and his family are longtime members of Temple Sinai in Bethesda, Maryland.

“This is not the way it should have to be in America, but unfortunately it is the way,” he said.

US law enforcement vehicles sit in front of the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on January 16, 2022 in Colleyville, Texas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images/AFP)

During the call, which lasted for more than an hour, federal officials reiterated security measures already in place, such as Nonprofit Security Grant Program funds available to synagogues, email information systems available for local congregations to sign up for and online resources for synagogue security training.

“The purpose of convening this Zoom in the wake of the terrible events in Texas was twofold,” Diament said. “One, we thought was important for the synagogue community to directly hear from these national leaders a message of reassurance and solidarity and commitment to combating antisemitism. And secondly, to also hear from them about the current threat environment and any top-line additional, practical steps that they ought to be taking in the coming days or weeks.”

Also on the call were Melissa Rogers, White House executive director of faith-based and neighborhood partnerships, and other federal undersecretaries.

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