Local religious institutions look to increase security and safety

MEDFORD, Ore.– A pair of weekend attacks, one at a church in Texas and another at a rabbi’s home in New York, have religious institutions talking security.

Those in the Rogue Valley are aware that times, unfortunately, have changed. Churches and synagogues, what many people consider perhaps the safest places you can find, are taking steps to increase security for services.

But they’re also being proactive in other ways.

The attacks at the West Freeway Church of Christ and the home of Rabbi Chaim L. Rottenberg are the latest in deadly assaults on religious entities. In the Rogue Valley, churches and synagogues are doing what they can to ensure safety.

“When we think about people that are thinking, ‘Hey should I go to church today?’ The last thing on their mind should be worrying about whether they’re going to make it home,” said Jonathan Russell, assistant to the president for multimedia communication for the Oregon Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Russell says some churches view this as an uncomfortable conversation but it’s one that needs to be discussed. He says already churches within the conference have been openly having this discussion so as to address problems and find solutions.

“It makes me upset, it makes me angry that we need to be having these thoughts and even be pursuing any kind of safety measures in our churches,” said Russell. “I mean we want our churches to be safe places for people who are seeking faith.”

Churches in the conference have taken proactive steps such as working with law enforcement more closely and taking classes to identify potential threats. Medford’s Seventh-day Adventist Church is even offering an active shooter training to the public in the coming months. Russell says they had scheduled it for sooner but no one had signed up in time. They plan to open it up again for the first half of 2020 if there is still interest.

In Ashland, the Chabad Jewish Comunity Center is taking proactive security measures as well. While they couldn’t describe what exactly, Rabbi Avi Zwibel says they’re making sure their community is secure.

“I don’t want to get into it specifically, we are doing whatever it takes to secure and have self-defense in our synagogue,” he said. “We won’t allow such things to be vulnerable in such situations.”

Rabbi Zwibel says it’s tragic that religious institutions in the U.S. have to be doing this. He remembers a time when that wasn’t the case

“It was more of a luxury having security but we did feel like we’re in America, we’re secure,” he said. “But it doesn’t seem like that’s the case any longer, unfortunately.”

Zwibel says they will continue working with law enforcement and providing security when needed. But he says religious groups need to be asking questions and working to find solutions.

“The bigger picture is why does this happen? What brings people to such hate?” he said. “And there’s always that response, the Jewish response, is to respond with darkness and hate with love and light.”

If you would like to know more about the active shooter training, you can check out ALICE Training Institute or call Medford Seventh-day Adventist for more information. A class sign-up should be uploaded around January 15.

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