Increased focus on security following synagogue attack

- In the 48 hours since the mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the outpouring at Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas has been overwhelming.

“Name it - Somali community, Muslim community, Christian community, Buddhist,” said

Steve Hunegs, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas had just taken calls from the Swedish ambassador and former Vice President Walter Mondale.

“So amidst our sadness, if not despair, which we can’t afford despair by the way, we also know there are a lot of friends,” said Hunegs.

In early 2017 a wave of bomb threats on synagogues and community centers swept the U.S., including some in the Twin Cities. With concerns that violence could escalate, the JCRC created its first full-time director of community security.  

“There was that high possibility that something like this could happen,” said Dan Plekkenpol, a retired Plymouth deputy police chief.

Plekkenpol started this new job only three weeks ago. His role is to help each place of worship get training on crisis response, help coordinate with law enforcement and figure out what security each place needs, which could even include armed guards.

“There’s always that consideration and it’s something that we do think about,” said Plekkenpol. “It is also a thought and decision that needs to be made by each congregation itself.”

What happened in Pittsburgh tells the JCRC this role is unfortunately necessary. Hunegs calls it an “ugly phenomenon,” pointing out not just synagogues, but also mosques and African-American churches have faced attacks.

“A remarkable tear in fabric of American society, attacking people in their houses of worship,” said Hunegs.

Mt. Zion Temple in St. Paul will host an inter-faith vigil Monday evening at 6 p.m.

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