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Feds Prep Religious Leaders to Handle Hate Crimes

By Lucy Gellman

If you see an injured person on the ground while an active shooter is in your sanctuary, don’t stop to help. Figure out the best escape route, which may be through a window, and get out of there.

Working with members of federal and local law enforcement, 45 spiritual and community leaders from 17 different organizations learned that lesson Monday, April 24 at a training session concerning hate crimes, hate speech, bomb threats, and active shooter situations that may take place in houses of worship.

Held at Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel in Westville, the three-hour meeting was dedicated to teaching representatives from the state’s Jewish, Sikh, Christian, and Muslim communities and civic organizations to identify and report hate crimes, respond to bomb threats, and have a plan in place for active shooter situations.

It comes at a time when “hate is on the rise,” said Jewish Federation Chief Executive Officer Judy Alperin Diamondstein. “Things we never thought we would have to confront, we are confronting.”

The closed-door meeting was organized in the aftermath of thousands of harassing telephone calls and bomb threats to synagogues and Jewish community centers and schools across the country, including several in Connecticut. Despite the April 21 filing of federal charges against Michael Kadar, the 18-year-old Israeli-American citizen who made a majority of those threats, law enforcement officials still “felt the need to go forward” with the meeting and training, said FBI Community Outreach Specialist Charles Grady.

In part, that’s because law enforcement officials want to make sure faith leaders know how to respond if sent a bomb threat, or put in a crisis situation. Diamondstein has been there: she recalled starting the year “constantly on edge,” concerned every time a new alert popped up on her telephone, or a concerned parent or community member called her.

Kicking off the meeting with a screening of the FBI-produced film The Coming Storm, which depicts an active shooter situation on a college campus, FBI Special Agent in Charge Patricia Ferrick, U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly, and Interim New Haven Police Chief Anthony Campbell spoke with attendees about what to do if shooters enter their sanctuaries – like evacuate quickly and efficiently, not stopping for those who may be too injured to walk. And finding exits that might not be doors. Daly also spoke on listening for, identifying, and pushing back against hate speech, urging leaders, congregants, and “members of the public out there” to speak up.

“And if you think it might be a crime, report it,” she said.

In addition to the training, Grady said, the meeting was intended to give faith leaders and law enforcement officials the opportunity to meet each other, and present a united front in the face of potential violence.

“The one thing that offers us protection for our safety, our liberty, is the unity … to stand up against terror, hatred, criminality, bigotry” together, said Beth El-Keser Israel Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen.

This article is reprinted with permission of The New Haven Independent, where it first appeared on April 24.

CAP: New Haven Jewish Federation CEO Judy Alperin Diamondstein speaking at the April 24 community-wide training session concerning hate crimes.

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