How the Texas Synagogue Survived

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S1: So, Stuart, what is your title?

S2: National training and exercise advisor

S1: Stuart Frisch is pretty vague when he talks about his job. What is shorthand for what

S2: you do like

S1: if you introduce yourself to a new neighbor? What do you tell them

S2: if I introduce myself to a new neighbor before I know them? I tell them I work in nonprofit.

S1: What Stewart actually does is work in security. He trains people for how to survive mass shootings and terrorist attacks.

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S2: Once they get to know them, they probably can’t shut me up. But new neighbors, probably just here that I work in nonprofit.

S1: Stewart is Jewish. He focuses his work on synagogues.

S2: I grew up in a small Jewish community in a small southern town. Where security meant, you know, that you hide the wine bottles from the kids on Saturday morning. There were no locks on the doors. I never saw a police officer anywhere near a synagogue, ever. And this was This is a new world.

S3: You are live in the CNN newsroom. I’m Jim Acosta in Washington, and we are starting this hour once again with the breaking news. At least four people are believed to be held hostage right now, including a rabbi at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, the FBI.

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S1: When you first heard about the hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas, I wonder what your first thought was.

S2: I first thought was first to pray, of course, for their safety and for a successful resolution to the incident.

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S1: The attack last Saturday was especially jarring for Stewart because he’d been at this house of worship training the congregation just a few months ago.

S3: As we’ve been reporting for hostages inside that synagogue, one of the hostages believed to be the rabbi, this

S1: all took place when the rabbi and his congregants escaped. They threw a chair at their captor after 11 hours of detention. The rabbi said it was the training Stewart gave him that saved their lives.

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S2: A lot of what we do is we trained people to understand that not only is it OK to listen to your instincts, but you have to commit to action based on those instincts to not live in denial, to understand very quickly that the reality at the moment has changed.

S1: I noticed at least one congregant calling out your training by name, saying how helpful it was. And I wonder when you hear that kind of thanks. What you think of it, because it’s it’s a grim kind of success. You know,

S2: it is grim. I do wish that at some point we’ll be able to work ourselves all out of jobs. But unfortunately, the world we live in says something completely different is that unfortunately, our jobs will be secure for many years to come because the wave of hate and violence and anti-Semitic attacks does not seem to be waning. It does not seem to be a pendulum shift.

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S1: Today on the show, how the hostages in Colleyville were able to survive an unthinkable ambush, a Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick around. You mentioned Grab Southern as a Jewish kid. How did your law enforcement career begin? Why did you pick that role?

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S2: I didn’t pick that role at all, and it was never in my plan, huh? I spent some time in the military in Israel, and when my military career in Israel was over, my my life’s plan was to move to a city in the south of Israel called Delshad to open up a scuba diving school. And all I wanted to do was suntan and scuba dive for the rest of my life.

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S1: Sounds like a nice life.

S2: Yeah, so I came back to visit my mom. And during that week, nine 11 happened. And 911. Like for so many other people of my generation and younger generations. Nine eleven changed the course of my life. Every city in the country thought that that this was going to be our future, that we were going to be seeing terrorist attacks. So the mayor of the city I lived in was looking for someone who knew something about terrorism and how to fight it.

S1: This was in Memphis,

S2: correct, and I ended up working in our local police department together with the FBI commanding a counterterrorism and homeland security unit for the next decade and a half.

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S1: Were you always a kind of liaison to the Jewish community?

S2: I think informally I was only because I was at the time. Not only was I one of the only Jewish police officers in my department, but I was also serving in an ability that had direct connection to the types of threats that the Jewish community was facing. You know, a police officer that grew up in their community that speaks their language, that knows their culture is serving in this critical role.

S1: You talk about how when you’re a kid like you don’t remember ever seeing a police officer and you never really thought about safety in the way that you do now. So I wonder if that was a real education for you when you joined the police, or maybe that happened when you were in the IDF?

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S2: I mean, I think that happened during my military career, when you can see firsthand people invoking the name of the Third Reich and what happened in Germany during the Second World War and trying to eliminate your people wholesale, I mean, I think that that’s a that’s a big eye opener. But also I think that when you travel to the Middle East, you expect that kind of thing because that’s very well publicized and it’s not a secret that there’s a Middle East conflict. But when you come back to the states, you think that you kind of leave all that behind and you come back to this kind of pastoral, you know, perfect Jewish community where everybody gets along and the world is changed, unfortunately. I mean, my child is growing up in a different Jewish world than I grew up in.

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S1: Why did you transition to working in security consulting specifically for Jewish communities?

S2: I met my current boss, our CEO, actually during a mission trip to Israel when I was still with the police department, and he and I had some similar ideas about what the future of Jewish communal security looked like. And we kind of promised each other if there was ever the opportunity to work together that we would. And then I never saw him again or spoke to him for a couple of years. And he called me and he said, Look, you remember that conversation we had a couple of years ago and I said, you know, kind of. They said, Well, I’m an I’m the new CEO. And I think that conversation just just went on from there. And here we are three and a half years later.

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S1: I read this quote from you that the Jewish Community Security World is looked at as pre tree of Life and post Tree of Life.

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S3: Grief and prayers in Pittsburgh after the deadly rampage at a Jewish synagogue.

S2: I think in most professional disciplines, there’s there’s that tipping point or watershed moment or there’s that change. That’s the change moment. Following an active shooter situation, we know that there are casualties in the Jewish communal security world. We’re going to talk about things in terms of before Tree of Life and after Tree of Life.

S3: That’s the suspect he’s telling about killing Jews. He doesn’t want any of the live well. Many will just see this as an attack upon the Jewish community. It’s not. It’s an attack upon America.

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S2: You know, I started this current job in June of 2018. And all the conversations I was having, both within my organization and with communities were all very theoretical and strategic in nature because we thought we had time and we thought we had time to build out training programs and we didn’t know that we didn’t have time. We did not know that there. We knew theoretically, there was a clock ticking. We just didn’t know how fast that clock was ticking. And on Saturday morning, at nine o’clock on October 27, 2018, we found out in the most horrific and tragic manner how little time we had left. And it turned our world completely around

S1: how

S2: something as simple and mundane as the development of a PowerPoint slide deck to present active threat training to a community. While we’re debating over things like font size and what color we want the slide to be, I think everybody. Around that table, here is a clock ticking in their head. You know, the speed with which we get this out to the public could equate to lives saved. It was a different conversation. Previous Previously, you know, it was much, much more strategic and theoretical in nature. And then those conversations turned to emergent and now and tactical and necessary, and we have to have it today. Organization is conducting some type of training or outreach every single day, multiple times a day.

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S1: One of the survivors of the Colleyville hostage situation, Geoffrey Cohen, posted on Facebook about how he believes he survived. He cited your training. He describes actions he took that I might not know to take in my own life. He talks about hearing the click of a gun, realizing what it was. And then he simply called 9-1-1 and placed the phone next to him, he didn’t try to speak to anyone on the other end. As far as I know, he just left the phone open. Is that something you talk about in training?

S2: It is. It is something that we describe in training, and it’s it’s a phenomenally courageous and brave act that he took because he put his own life at risk when he when he did that and he did it anyway, it potentially saved lives doing that as well.

S1: And then over the course of hours, Cohen talked about how he methodically found a way to move closer to an exit. Like just bit by bit like all of a sudden we’re eating pizza, so we’re all going to eat a little bit closer to the exit. Sure. It’s like moving micro bits. Does that sound familiar to?

S2: I mean, that sounds familiar. Is that one of the first things we tell people during one of our initial trainings is that sometimes when you’re talking to faith based groups, using metaphors from the Bible speaks louder and sounds more close to home than others. So the metaphor I use is I talk about Noah’s Ark and I tell them, here’s the deal. When did Noah build that boat? And the answer is before the rain. And I, you know, we have to build our ark before the rain. And I said, you know, one of the first things you have to do when you walk into any place because you should abdicate your personal safety to anybody. And this has nothing to do with synagogue attacks. This is when you go to a movie theater, locate the exits, find your exits before you need them. Have a Plan B.. I been teaching my daughter since she’s been six years old. Daddy’s first rule is I always have a Plan B and this is what I tell my community. And this is what I told the community in Texas that if the front door is blocked, have another exit. And if that’s blocked, find the windows. You know, throw a chair through a window break glass. You can still get out and you know, not just for gunman, you know, for fires, for gas leaks, for, you know, for whatever awareness protects all of us, whether we’re in traffic or where we’re sitting there with a gun to our face in a synagogue on a Saturday morning.

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S1: I like what you said about preparing before the rain and sort of recognizing when the rain is about to come. Because at this synagogue in Texas, it really does seem like there was a moment where the hostages saw the thunder clouds and thought, OK, it’s going to rain, we have to act. And the rabbi makes this decision to throw a chair.

S4: There was a chair that was right in front of me. I picked it up and I threw it at him with all the adrenaline.

S2: A hugely courageous act. I mean, he deserves all the credit in the world for that.

S4: I don’t say this to scare people. You need to act in moments where your life is threatened.

S1: What do you leave for congregants who maybe aren’t able to come to your trainings? Like, I read that your organization even has little pocket cards you can put into prayer books. So even if someone didn’t go to your training, there’s a reminder right there of how to take care of themselves.

S2: We rely on rabbis and cantors and synagogue and temple presidents to tell people to look at those cards. This is what we’re trained as a community to do, and you should be trained as well. And it’s also it’s an admonishment to attend the next possible training because there’s there’s plenty of training opportunities out there.

S1: More with Stuart Frisch in a minute. I think about security work like what you do and think of it as this careful balance between building protection and instilling fear. And I wonder if you’ve ever worried that you were saddling congregations with an unhealthy fear.

S2: Never heard it described like that, and I would probably disagree with you that why?

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S5: Because. Know that when you read

S2: the Bible and you read about the 10th of Abraham and Sarah that was open on all four sides, for anyone to walk in that this is this is a Jewish value, OK? And it’s it’s the Jewish value I was raised in that our tent should be open on all four sides

S1: to be welcoming,

S2: to be welcoming, to be inclusive. I also know that in the world we live in now, we have to balance that security and that openness and that inclusiveness with with protecting the people that are there. So. I never tried to instill fear. I think fear is the absolute wrong tactic. We’re trying to instill smart, well thought out intentional strategic security plans that are holistic in nature, that are layered, that allow people to come into our community, whoever they are from, wherever they are, and participate in faith services in a safe and secure manner. And that and we found that when it’s done right and the training is applied, you can actually be more open and you can keep the the four sides of your tent open because your tent is secure. You know, the four sides of the tent that were open also had stakes that went into the ground to make sure that the tent didn’t get blown away by the wind. And that’s that’s really what we’re trying to do.

S1: I know you focus on one community, in particular the Jewish community, but I sort of wonder if everyone should have an active shooter plan or a disaster plan like the one that you offer to say, a synagogue.

S2: Not to my great sorrow. I think that it’s probably a good idea. A lot of the work that we’ve done also has been interfaith in nature. I mean, I visited a Hindu temple not too many days ago to speak with the staff there because they’re also afraid. I’ve spoken to many of the local imams at the mosques here and priests and ministers and faith leaders.

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S1: Yeah, I mean, once I started thinking about it, I thought, Well, I can imagine black congregations wanting security support. I can imagine Muslim congregations wanting

S2: it as and they should have it. Yeah, we’ve been working with them to to build their own community capacity. And that’s a big part of what we do is build community capacity for security.

S1: You know, when I talked to my colleagues about this interview, a couple of my Jewish colleagues expressed to our team this observation that. They see a generational divide in their communities. An older generation that grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust and feels it’s prudent to prepare to defend yourself and a younger generation that feels maybe more privileged and not especially victimized. You seem to be standing in between those generations to me. But I wonder in your work, if you ever find yourself having these conversations with older, younger Jews about what risk is and how risky? Their faith is.

S2: I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust, was my parents’ generation. My mother’s father. Was an American soldier, deliberated concentration camps, and he carried that with him to the day he died, and my mother talks about her cousins being rescued from the fires of those camps walking into their their kitchen when she was growing up and their first week in America, emaciated with tattoos on their arm. And then I think about my daughter, who is in seventh grade when Tree of Life happened and she was going to a Jewish day school, a school that I provided the security guidance for every day of her life, she had worn a star of David necklace outside of her, her uniform. And the Monday morning after the Saturday attack, she called me into the bathroom to ask me if she should put it inside her uniform so people didn’t know she was Jewish.

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S1: Oh man, that must have broken your heart.

S2: I don’t think there’s ever been a more heart breaking conversation I’ve had than that one. The younger generation is unfortunately the new older generation.

S1: It seems to me in talking to you that you have. This running the list of horrors in your mind. Of incidents, mass shootings, where people of faith have been attacked. And. I’m sure it makes you more alert to danger than me, who maybe doesn’t have that list going on. Do you worry that people who aren’t observing things the way you are? Are somehow complacent right now and not seeing the full scope of what needs to be seen.

S2: No, I’m thinking I probably should have been a scuba diving instructor. I could have been a lot simpler. You know, that in some way said ignorance and complacency is a gift, and it’s one that I’m very jealous of people. They say, I wish, I wish. I knew. Everything that was going on like you did and I had my response is always not you really don’t because you probably sleep better than I do, you know? But on the other hand, I think that the ultimate macro big picture goal for what we do it secure community network is to allow as much as possible our community to operate as if nothing’s going on. You know, we take our precautions, we make, we apply our training and we go about our lives. And, you know, I don’t want people walking around in fear. I don’t want people walking around looking behind every curtain for the ninjas with the knife between their teeth. I just I don’t want that. That’s not how I was raised. I don’t want to raise my daughter like that. I don’t want my family living like that. And I don’t want I don’t want anyone living like that. So sometimes, you know, as long as the rules are being applied, maybe sometimes that that means that we’re doing our job just good enough to keep to keep people safe.

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S1: What did you tell your daughter when she asked, you should I be tucking my star of David under my shirt?

S2: I told her, Don’t let them win. And how much should you wear one, but you should wear to? And I gave her my underwear. I don’t think she put it on because mine’s really ugly and it’s for boys. But you should never be not proud and you should always be open it up front about who you are and never be afraid to be Jewish. Because that’s how that’s how the people that hate us when it’s by making us afraid of them.

S1: Stuart Frisch, thank you so much for joining me.

S2: I appreciate it.

S1: Stuart Frisch is a national training and exercise advisor at the Secure Community Network. And that’s our show. What next is produced by Daniel Hewitt, Elaina Schwartz, Carmel Delshad and Mary Wilson. We are led by Alicia Montgomery and for one more week, Alison Benedict, who I’m going to spend subsequent shows embarrassing with over-the-top demonstrations of love and devotion because we love you, Alison. A Mary Harris. You can find me on Twitter about Mary’s desk. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.