The Power in Partnership

by CSS CEO, Evan R. Bernstein

The following essay first appeared in Medium

As we approach the most significant days of the Jewish calendar, I find myself reflecting on previous efforts that provided tangible support for Jewish communities across New York, and considering new steps to improve our collective security during a period of increased threats to our community. As American Jews continue to grapple with staggering levels of antisemitic incidents since the start of 2019, including anti-Jewish conspiracy theories seeping into the public sphere due to the coronavirus pandemic, I find hope in those moments where partnering with likeminded organizations, governmental and non-governmental, not only significantly elevated awareness of critical challenges, but also led to measurable change.

While serving for many years as a senior leader at one of the nation’s most prominent anti-hate organizations, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the power in partnership was quite evident. In 2017, faced with rising hate incidents targeting minority communities, we led a joint effort to provide hate crimes reporting and bias prevention training to Mexican Consular staff and Hispanic community leaders. Last year, on the heels of an increase in hate and bias incidents in New Jersey (including the deadly attack in Jersey City that resulted in the murder of a police officer and three innocent civilians at a Kosher supermarket), I led my region into a formal partnership with the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) to provide anti-bias education to elected officials, build bridges between communities through dialogue sessions, and pledge to respond with a united voice to all forms of hate. And under a similar premise, we saw firsthand how the establishment of a meaningful partnership with Brooklyn-based Pastor Gilford Monrose of the 67th Precinct Clergy Council, proved to advance a greater understanding and connection with the Jewish community.

Ambassador Jacob Prado, Director General for the Protections of Mexicans Abroad (left), Evan Bernstein, CEO of CSS and former Vice President of the Anti-Defamation League’s Northeast Division (center), and Diego Gomez Pickering, Mexican Consul General Ambassador (right), in Mexico City in 2018 following the formation of a Memorandum of Understanding to solidify a joint effort to provide hate crimes and bias prevention trainings for Mexican Consular staff and community leaders.

Motivated by the positive impact these partnerships had on all organizations involved and, most importantly, our communities, I look forward to bringing this same approach to the organization I currently lead, the Community Security Service (CSS). While the vast majority of Jewish Americans are able to live their lives safely and free from threats, data on antisemitism and hate crimes demonstrate that prejudice and hatred continue to target Jews more than any other religious group. CSS trains volunteers to protect Jewish life and the Jewish way of life, most importantly by helping community members protect their synagogues across the country. However, the security challenges we face are daunting, and are so massive that no one individual, organization or governmental body can tackle them alone.

As I wrote in June about the need to stem Jewish vulnerability in this era of uncertainty, the singular goal that dictates what we do next is to be in a better position to equip Jewish institutions with the necessary tools needed to create secure and safe environments that enables them to continue their important work unimpeded by security threats. It is this exact spirit that drove CSS to take action on this front.

We are blessed to have forged close ties with the Community Security Initiative (CSI), a program recently created as part of the UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York’s $4 million plus plan to help secure local Jewish institutions across the New York metropolitan area. This new initiative is led by executive director Mitch Silber, a former senior N.Y.P.D. counterterrorism official and renowned security expert, and close friend of CSS. In this first-of-its-kind operational partnership made official through a Memorandum of Understanding, CSI and CSS will collaborate intimately by synchronizing our field operations, coordinating deployments of volunteers, sharing key intelligence, and conducting joint training efforts.

CSI and CSS are two of the leading Jewish security groups in New York. Their partnership will cover Jewish institutions in New York City, Long Island, and Westchester, as per a signed Memorandum of Understanding.

This deep partnership and memorandum of understanding is not about optics or offering lip service to calls for unity in our community. Rather, by joining forces with CSI, we are able to leverage our collective and unique resources and expertise to improve security for Jewish institutions across the greater New York metropolitan area. As a result of this partnership, community members concerned about the security of their synagogue, communal space and loved ones can be assured that there will be more trained eyes and ears on the ground to proactively respond to the heightened threat environment. With CSI’s breadth of tactical and intel abilities, coupled with CSS’s vast network of trained volunteers, we are pledging to go beyond optics.

At CSS, we have taken our commitment to professionalize and grow very seriously by adding two security training and volunteer operations experts to our senior staff, which will hold key roles in this new joint collaboration. We are also in the midst of revamping our security training and protocols that will enhance the services we provide at an even higher level. These new senior team members will closely collaborate with the experts at CSI, and together prove pivotal in the success of this new alliance. But while partnerships like this are critical, they are no substitute for on-the-ground security, and we continue to update, deepen and revamp the security training and security protocols for our volunteers that will enhance the safety net around our community.

I am also proud that the CSI-CSS alliance will establish an Interfaith Advisory Security and Safety Council for the greater New York region that will consist of leaders from various faith groups. This not only allows us to create a larger tent by engaging with leadership beyond the Jewish community, it is also because I learned by working in this space for decades that hate may start with one community but it never ends there: ultimately, the best long-term solution against hate is to fight all forms of hate together.

Given the manner in which extremist ideology is rearing its ugly head, with an increase in violent antisemitic acts as a consequence, it is incumbent upon us as a leading Jewish security body to foster partnerships that seek to produce an even bigger shield.

Evan Bernstein is CEO of The Community Security Service (CSS), a 501(c)3 organization founded in 2007 that proactively protects the people, institutions, and events of the American Jewish community. Partnering with Jewish organizations, governmental authorities, and law enforcement agencies, CSS safeguards the community by training volunteers in professional security techniques, providing physical security, and raising public awareness about safety issues. CSS has a trained membership of over 4,000 volunteers, representing the rich diversity of the American Jewish community.