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Why The Jewish Community In Palm Beach County Increased Security Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County
Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County is leading the effort to keep 22 organizations, including 17 area synagogues, safe against potential hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March, swastikas were found painted outside the Guatemalan Maya Center and an office being used for the Bernie Sanders campaign, both in Lake Worth Beach.

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Those vandalism incidents are part of what prompted leaders of the Jewish community to join J-Secure, a free opt-in security patrol service by the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County. And after suspicious activities near Jewish facilities, Michael Hoffman, the organization's president and CEO, is leading the effort to keep 22 organizations, including 17 area synagogues, safe against potential hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Below is an excerpt of WLRN's conversation with Hoffman. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office investigated the vandalism at the Guatemalan Maya Center in Lakewood Beach. And Bernie Sanders' unofficial campaign office in Lake Worth Beach, is that two of many reasons to increase security in the Jewish community? 

Yeah, look, unfortunately, the issue of hate and bigotry and anti-Semitism, it doesn't go away or it hasn't gone away during the the pandemic and the economic crisis that has hit our community and every community literally around the world. So we felt as a Jewish federation of Palm Beach County that it is our obligation to support all of our Jewish institutions and our synagogues and our other partners to do what we can to ensure that the safety and security of our Jewish institutions is never compromised. 

Since many crimes go unreported, have you seen anecdotal increases of possible hate crimes on the local level? 

Twenty-two organizations are participating in the J-Secure patrols. 

That includes 17 synagogues and the others are just different Jewish institutions and agencies of the Jewish Federation. And over the past couple of weeks we've had 10 incidents where there have been concerns of either they have the potential for individuals to commit crimes, the potential for individual to commit acts of anti-Semitism. 

Fortunately, through this patrol, through these efforts, we were able to be proactive and to sort of address some of these concerns and to make sure that all of our Jewish institutions are as secure as possible. So, for example, in several of the synagogues that our security has has patrol, they found doors that were slightly ajar. There were some individuals or vans or unauthorized cars that had been sitting in some of the the parking lots. We don't want to wait for an incident to happen. We want to be proactive. We want to be respectful. But we want to make sure that our our institutions feel a level of comfort for their safety and security. 

Tell me more about J-Secure. How does the initiative work? 

So we basically have a director of community security at the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County. 

It's a position we didn't have two years ago. We have felt that we've had create this position to find a variety of different ways to ensure the safety and security of participants in Jewish life and who participate in Jewish organizations. We work very closely with local law enforcement -- Palm Beach County, West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, other locales.

We work closely with the state. We work closely with Homeland Security. And we basically coordinate efforts to ensure when there are potential acts of anti-Semitism, when there are reports of threats for anti-Semitism, that we make sure that we have the law enforcement efforts necessary to ensure safety and security.

Wilkine Brutus is a reporter and producer for WLRN and a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute. The South Florida native produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.