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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Carmi Lawrence, CPP CAS

Gordon: You have had a diverse work background, how did you get into corporate security and investigations, and how did you end up in charge of an organization that deals with Jewish Communal Security?

Carmi: I graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in Criminal Justice, with the intention of going into the military or law enforcement. However at that time, there were really no accommodations being made for religious Jews in those fields. It is still relatively rare to find observant Jews in those roles outside of Israel and New York, however I was fortunate in being to gain leadership experience within the private sector.

For most of my adult career, I was working either as a consultant or leader in corporate security and investigations. I started two corporate security departments from the ground up and worked at two Fortune 500 companies doing investigations and security compliance related to loss prevention, supply chain security, personnel misconduct, and fraud issues.

For several years, I was responsible for an organization’s C-TPAT (U.S. Customs – Trade Partnership Against Terrorism) Program. It is a government trusted trader program for U.S. companies (likened to what the TSA Pre-check program is to individuals), where if you can demonstrate to the government that your company’s supply chain is secure enough that it could not be exploited by terrorists to smuggle different kinds of threats or contraband into the country, you get preferential treatment at the ports- less inspections and a more efficient import process. In support of this program, I had the opportunity to travel the world doing factory and supply chain assessments as well as supply chain breach investigations.

After 30 years in the corporate world, I became somewhat disillusioned and decided that I wanted to pursue a path would allow me to use my background, skills and experience in a way that had more meaning and purpose for me. During the timeframe when I was pondering what direction to go in, the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre took place, where a gunman murdered 11 people and wounded six more. Some of the victims had survived the Holocaust, only to face a Jew-hater’s bullets at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. It took the police nine minutes to arrive at the scene.

That’s when I envisioned a way to utilize my skill set to help protect the Jewish community. I imagined what would have happened if someone was shooting back instantly on that day in Pittsburgh. I imagined how things might have been different if the gunshot victims had received lifesaving first aid in the seconds after they were shot, keeping them alive until EMS arrived. I envisioned how much safer the Jewish community could be if every synagogue had a trained volunteer first responder on the scene- one who was able to detect a threat and take the action needed to prevent another Tree of Life shooting from taking place. With these objectives in mind, the Synagogue Security Council of North America was born.

Gordon: What does the Synagogue Security Council of North America do, and how does it make the Jewish community safer?

Carmi: The SSCNA is a 501c3 non-profit organization singularly focused on developing effective volunteer first responders within our Jewish communities across North America. Acknowledging the reality that police cannot be everywhere at all times, the only way to ensure our communities are protected against violent hate crimes, active threats and terrorist attacks is to take responsibility for and effectively manage our own security.

We do this by providing standardized technology systems, real-time intelligence, training and certification programs to community volunteers, giving them the necessary tools and skills to help prevent or respond to a targeted attack.

if every Jewish life matters, then any gathering of Jews in their synagogues and community institutions deserves to be protected. By having a trained, volunteer armed first responder within every institution and every prayer quorum, we help prevent another Tree of Life shooting from taking place.

Gordon: Why not just utilize armed security guards or off-duty police officers for protection at Jewish institutions?

Carmi: Jewish communities that have the resources to utilize armed security generally only do so only on the sabbath and holidays due to financial constraints. Orthodox Jews pray three times a day at the synagogue, in addition to study classes and other synagogue programming. This means that Orthodox synagogues would need an armed guard present most of the time the synagogue building is open.

In addition, because of the lack of Jews in law enforcement and security, armed guards are usually not part of the faith community, so unless you get the same guard every time (which is not standard for many services), it is sometimes difficult for them to learn who belongs and who doesn’t. The only financially viable and effective way to do this, according to our subject matter experts, is to have volunteer synagogue congregants trained as effective armed first responders.

Gordon: Antisemitism incidents are at a record high in the United States. What are some of the factors that contribute to antisemitism?

Carmi: This is a complex issue that has been going on for thousands of years, but there are currently several factors that are contributing to the issue. Recently we have seen celebrities, social influencers, American politicians and well-known clergy espousing anti-Semitic beliefs and conspiracy theories about Jews openly and without shame. Instead of being denounced, they have been defended by their famous friends and supporters. This has caused a surge of Jew-hate among their followers and it inspires and emboldens other domestic hate groups such as Neo-Nazis, White supremacists, and Islamic Supremacists to openly express Jew-hate. Many people say that the answer to anti-Semitism is education; however American universities are bastions of anti-Israel Jew hate due to radicalized professors pushing the BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement against Israel and parroting Islamic terrorist propaganda, which has a huge impact on the perception of Jews and Israel within the student population. Many students end up radicalized on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which often manifests itself as Jew hate. Another reason for the upsurge in anti-Semitism is that according to law enforcement data, most of the violent attacks we are seeing perpetrated against Jews are coming from minority communities. With the current strain between minority communities and law enforcement, there may be a political motivation not to call out, severely punish and publicize these kinds of antisemitic attacks.

Gordon: What can the government do to reduce antisemitism?

Carmi: I would say two things; first, as I just mentioned, the courts need to punish people involved in hate crimes to the maximum extent possible. There needs to be a deterrent factor in hate crime prosecutions which will only happen if perpetrators get the book thrown at them. A clear message needs to be sent that Jew hate will not be tolerated in our society. There have been suspects caught with weapons on their way to carry out homicidal attacks on synagogues, only to be let out on bail by the Judge. This does not send the right message in my opinion.

Second, I think that the government can engage in educational and media campaigns explaining what antisemitism is, and why it is wrong. The government has done this successfully with other kinds of behaviors such as smoking, sexism, sexual harassment and safe driving- so why not Jew hate? When an average of 60% of hate crimes in America are directed at a group that makes up less than 2% of the population, I think it is a pervasive enough problem to warrant taxpayer funded campaigns.

Gordon: I saw a press release that your organization recently got involved with the legal battle against the State of New York's prohibition on carrying firearms in Houses of Worship. How did that happen and why is the SSCNA involved?

We got connected with Attorney Jay Sekulow’s American Center for Law and Justice, who has argued for religious rights in front of the supreme court a dozen times. We worked with the ACLJ to file an Amicus Brief in the SPENCER V. NIGRELLI case which challenges New York State’s ban on carrying firearms in Houses of Worship. The case is being heard in the Second Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The increasing threats and attacks against the Jewish people in recent years has created a paradigm shift in the way American Jewish communities think about security. We can no longer afford to delegate our communal security to the state. According to the FBI, the average police response time to an active shooter call in the United States is over three minutes. In rural areas, this could be over thirty minutes. This means that in case of an attack, synagogue congregants will always be the first responders. Therefore, the only way to ensure Jewish institutions are protected against violent hate crimes, active threats, and terrorist attacks is for the Jewish community to take responsibility for and effectively manage their own security. When we discussed this with the folks at the ACLJ they thought that the idea that a church or synagogue would be specifically prohibited from allowing their congregants to protect themselves was abhorrent and violates the First and Second Amendments. The SSCNA is pleased to be collaborating with the American Center for Law and Justice on this important case and is proud to partner with them as they fight to defend our first and second amendment constitutional rights. The ACLJ’s work is vital in preventing government overreach, by interfering in our ability to safely practice our religion and exercise our constitutional rights.

Gordon: Thank you for a great and inspirational interview.

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