Clergy Advisory Council Meeting

Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station Captain Lt. Matthew Vander Horck addresses the leaders of local faith communities gathered at the station for a Clergy Advisory Council meeting.

A wave of mass shootings has hit churches, synagogues and mosques in recent years in the U.S. and across the world, prompting many places of worship to beef up security. Even some Malibu religious houses, fearing vulnerability to an attack, have taken measures to make their employees, students and congregations feel safer and more secure.

The Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue (MJCS) recently sent an email to its congregation saying, in part, “Following the horrifying attack in Monsey, N.Y., earlier this week and in light of recent news of growing anti-Semitism in the United States and around the world, we want to share a few thoughts and tell you about the actions we are taking.”

The attack they were referring to occurred inside a Hasidic rabbi’s home in a New York City suburb the last week of December, when a man with a machete stabbed at least five people gathered for a Hanukkah celebration. That same week, a gun battle at a kosher market in Jersey City, N.J., left three people and a police officer dead. According to the New York Times, six anti-Semitic incidents, five of them assaults, happened in New York City alone over two days during Hanukkah.

Closer to home, just last April a gunman armed with an AR-15 style rifle killed one woman and injured three inside the Chabad of Poway synagogue in San Diego County.

MJCS’s letter went on to state, “MJCS has taken several actions to respond to this threat, including: increasing the private security presence at religious services, school functions, and major events; installing new security cameras; and monitoring alerts from the L.A. Jewish Federation’s Community Security Initiative (CSI).”

“Obviously, things in the world are certainly changing, and in particular, the level of anti-Semitic attacks has skyrocketed,” said Al Welland, executive director of MJCS, in a recent interview. “After the situation in Pittsburgh with the temple there [a mass shooting on Oct. 27, 2018, where the shooter entered a synagogue, killed 11 people and wounded six], our community was concerned and feeling very vulnerable, and we didn’t want that to deter them from visiting our place of worship. Everyone who works or visits here needs to feel safe.

“We upgraded our security to give us better eyes on our entire campus and we have a much better process for reporting anything,” he continued. “I would think every religious organization has been looking at what they’re doing in terms of security. We’re a soft target, and because of our location on PCH, there can’t be a gate or an ID scanner at the entrance. We’re always reviewing and updating our security procedures with the professionals.

“And thanks to the State of California, we applied for a security grant. They’re allowing any religious organization to apply for up to $200K in security enhancements and personnel,” Welland said.

“We regularly communicate with the Sheriff’s Department and tell them when we’re having events and give them our schedules. They patrol the parking lot and have always been incredibly responsive,” he added.

Recent violence hasn’t just hit synagogues—it hit churches and mosques as well. 

Just a couple weeks ago on Dec. 29, a Texas shooting left two churchgoers dead before church members serving as volunteer security killed the gunman at West Freeway Church of Christ near Fort Worth, Tex.

Malibu Pacific Church has implemented stricter security measures. Director of Operations Chris Laubach, a longtime Malibu resident, said the congregations’ program began with a desire to ensure the safety of children in preschool and Sunday School. 

“We did a security assessment about 18 months ago that resulted in us implementing hardware, security, access control, cameras, security training, emergency preparedness for different situations, security patrol services and a security task force that meets regularly,” Laubach explained. “Some people are more concerned than others, and it’s a balancing act. We try to keep our security precautions behind the scenes.”

But safety concerns have not caused widespread concern in the community; other Malibu places of worship, including St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church and the Malibu United Methodist Church, said they had not implemented any additional security measures as a result of recent acts of violence. 

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