BEACHWOOD, Ohio — "Certainly, you could say that this is a safe space, right?" 3News Investigative Reporter Marisa Saenz asked Rabbi Scott Roland, of Congregation Shaarey Tikvah in Beachwood.
“[A synagogue and a sanctuary] is a place where we draw closer to God and to where we pray,” Roland said. “This is a place that is joyful and is a place that is at times solemn.”
For nine years, six of them here in Cleveland, Roland has devoted his life full-time to Judaism. Over the course of those years, what's changed is the extra eyes who keep him safe.
"Have you just gotten used to seeing a guard? Or even perhaps an armed guard when you're walking in on a holy day or any day at work?” Saenz asked.
“There is a sense of security and a sense of safety that I feel when I’m walking into a Jewish building and I see that there is security there,” Roland responded. “It does not feel threatening to have an officer outside of my synagogue or outside of my children's school.”
Protecting Cleveland's Jewish community, from schools to synagogues, is a security force that was built from the ground up.
“[It’s called] the JFC, LLC," the Director of the Jewish Federation’s Community Wide Security, Jim Hartnett said. “It's like a mid-size police department.”
The force is made up of nearly 50 officers, all of whom have law enforcement experience.
The vetting process is neither small in task nor severity for Hartnett.
“We look to attract top level talent,” Hartnett described. “We have five former police chiefs here, former FBI, former SWAT team leaders, hostage negotiators, bomb techs.”
The Anti-Defamation League of Cleveland reported that anti-Semitic hate crimes in 2021 set a record in Ohio.
Some incidents have hit close to home. In March, a security guard for a Columbus modern orthodox Jewish school was arrested after anti-Semitic statements and photos were found on his social media.
“How do you navigate that as somebody who leads the security force here?” Hartnett was asked.
“We try and do a thorough job of looking through their history,” He responded. “We're not hiring RSO officers, you know, they're not worried about so much the kids and their behavior. They're worried about keeping the determined terrorists from getting in the building.”
The reality of needing such a robust security force for the Jewish community comes as a balancing act.
“We don't want community members to live in fear that there are so many guards and police vehicles around that they're afraid to live a Jewish life,” Hartnett said. “I think the Jewish community understands the need for security.”
“Do I wish that we didn't have to invest time and money and personnel into our security? Absolutely,” Roland said. “[But] I do take a lot of pride, get a lot of calm from the extent to which our situation in Cleveland is that we are so prepared."