Local JCCs heighten security after L.A. shootings

Reacting to Tuesday's shooting rampage at a Los Angeles-area Jewish community center, area JCCs have hired armed private security guards, beefed up police patrols and introduced other protective measures.

Security guards are stationed on the grounds of the Peninsula, Marin and Berkeley Richmond centers, as well as at a number of other area Jewish organizations. Some JCCs are requiring staff to wear name tags and have tightened the registration process for guests.

"I've required the staff to inquire what people's business is at the JCC more stringently than we've done before," Judy Wolff-Bolton, executive director of the Berkeley Richmond JCC said Wednesday. "I expect that will continue now as protocol."

Despite the enhanced security, however, area JCCs said no programs or events had been canceled.

Jewish institutions across America are re-evaluating their security following the shooting at the North Valley Jewish Community Center that left five wounded, including a 5-year-old boy who was critically injured.

The suspect, 37-year-old Buford Oneal Furrow, turned himself into authorities in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Upon his arrest, Furrow allegedly said he "wanted this to be a wake-up call to America to kill Jews."

After Tuesday's attack, the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America immediately sent out an action alert to its 275 centers, urging them to pump up security and contact local law enforcement authorities.

Every JCC in the Bay Area has heeded that call, with other Jewish agencies and congregations taking similar precautions to protect themselves from copycat crimes. And the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region, still reeling from the June 18 arsons of threesynagogues, has increased the number of security guards on its grounds for the second time this summer.

But even with reports now pointing to the shooting as an anti-Semitic hate crime, some Jewish community professionals are expressing a defiant determination not to be guided by fear.

"Like every other Jewish community, this is something we take to heart and take very seriously," said Stephanie Shernicoff, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater San Jose. "We also keep going."

The Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center of Greater San Jose and a number of other San Jose-area Jewish organizations have heightened security with private guards and increased police patrols. The APJCC, JCRC and other Jewish groups share a campus in Los Gatos.

South Bay Jewish groups scheduled a meeting to discuss medium- and long-range security plans with local law enforcement officials; the meeting was set for Wednesday night after the Bulletin's presstime.

Still, Shernicoff describes the mood in the area Jewish community as one of "business as usual."

Tuesday, however, was anything but a normal day for area JCCs, as news of the violence shocked the nation and questions abounded as to the gunman's motive.

Officials of the Peninsula Jewish Community Center in Belmont called local police immediately after learning of the news on a television broadcast.

"They came out within two minutes," said Jane Post, the JCC's associate director. "They did a walk-through of the JCC with me, looking at our security plan and making suggestions that might help us deal with the concerns we have in light of this current situation."

In addition to posting a security guard, other precautions have been taken at the Belmont center. For example, unused rooms have been locked. In the past they remained open.

The JCC of San Francisco also acted fast, calling police within 15 minutes of hearing of the shooting. Police stepped up the frequency and visibility of their usual patrols around the center on California Street.

The JCC of S.F. immediately put staff on high alert at its main site and two offsite preschools and wrote a letter to parents informing them of the security steps being taken.

Its staff escorted children from their parents' cars into the building and from the building to the cars at day's end. The center has also offered counseling for kids, families and staff wishing to talk about the tragedy.

The day of the shooting, emotions ran high throughout the local Jewish community.

"It seems like everyone's going insane," said Erica Amder of San Francisco, whose daughter attends day camp at the JCC. "It's everywhere. I feel really singled out."

A vigil at the San Francisco JCC was to take place Wednesday night.

"Everybody is actually very calm," said Nate Levine, JCC of S.F. executive director. "There's mostly concern for the well-being of the people in Los Angeles and what it means for the state and for our society and culture."

At the Marin JCC in San Rafael, the mood following the shooting could best be characterized as one of "sadness and anger," said Ron Mogel, the executive director.

"It's a very upsetting story for the whole Jewish community and especially parents that have young children."

Despite the fear, attendance at the MJCC did not drop off following the shooting, Mogel said. A private security guard has been patrolling the grounds and will do so for at least another week. Police cars can be seen cruising the parking lot. As with other area JCCs, police were onsite at the Marin center within minutes of being called Tuesday.

"There's over 250 kids here over the summertime every day," Mogel said. "It's something we take very seriously and we're very much on top of."

On Tuesday night, the Contra Costa JCC in Walnut Creek held a candlelight vigil to show support for the victims of the shooting.

An estimated 150 people attended the gathering, which sent a message of "spiritual resistance," according to Riva Gambert, director of education for the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay.

"There was sense of community," she said, "a sense of reaching out to one another."

A similar gathering will be held at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Berkeley Richmond JCC, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley. East Bay Rabbis Ted Feldman and Glenn Karonsky, as well as non Jewish clergy, will speak.

"It will be a chance to come together as a community," Wolff-Bolton said, "a chance to honor our community as a whole."

Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is a former J. staff writer.