Gary Sikorski

We have all heard the news.

Since January, there have been more than 150 threats against Jewish institutions in 33 states through anonymous emails and telephone calls. Two historic Jewish cemeteries were desecrated and millions of anti-Semitic posts and tweets have been aimed at Jewish journalists and public figures.

Our own community has not been immune

In Jewish Detroit, the JCC and Hillel Day School were targeted with bomb threats, respectively on January 18 and February 1, 2017. And within the same month, the Jewish community of Ann Arbor also received a bomb threat to both the JCC and Hebrew day school at the same property.

“While the clear intent of every bomb threat has been to disrupt life, undermine our Jewish institutions and spread fear within our community, thankfully there has been no actual danger to life or property. In each case, the threats across the country have proven to be hoaxes,” says Gary Sikorski, Federation’s Director of Community-Wide Security. “Moreover, our responses to the recent bomb scares here have been orderly and thorough and have reinforced our confidence in our security measures and the protocols that we have in place.”

“Our job is to look at our community security as a whole in putting appropriate safeguards into effect,” stated Mark Adler, Chair of Federation’s Security Committee. ”We are very fortunate to have one of the most capable and robust Federation Community Security Departments in the nation. Under the leadership of Gary Sikorski, our team works in a close and ongoing partnership with federal, state and local law enforcement, including the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, and together they are diligently ensuring the protection of everyone within our agencies, schools, synagogues and community campuses.”

Behind the scenes

A seasoned veteran of law enforcement, with 26 years of experience, Sikorski is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and the Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command. Well-connected and highly respected in his field, Sikorski is also a member of ATAC – the Michigan U.S. Attorney’s Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council – a position which gives the Jewish Federation a seat at the table in high level discussions concerning matters of homeland security.

As Sikorski observes, “There’s a fine line between being a welcoming, warm place and securing a building. People have a right to know that security protocols are in place where they work, where they gather or leave their children in our community.”

Since joining the staff at Federation nine years ago, Sikorski and the Federation’s Security Team and Security Committee have worked with Federation agencies and community partners to continuously upgrade security protocols, systems, and means of controlling access into buildings throughout the Jewish community. “We’re becoming even more proactive with lessons learned and best practices put into effect,” says Sikorski. “We’ve trained staff and instituted protocols for emergency response; we’ve invested in target-hardening, along with upgrading cameras and access control. Within our community and through our connections with other Jewish Federation Security Departments, our Federation is part of a national network of law enforcement and security agencies; maintaining great relationships with the ADL, Federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and Homeland Security, local law enforcement, state police, and sheriff’s departments.

Additionally, through the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), the Detroit Federation is supported by, and works very closely with Secure Community Network (SCN).  JFNA and SCN recently partnered with the Detroit Federation and provided access to a mass communication system “SCN National Alert System (SCN Alert).”  With that system in place, the Federation can send text messages, email and phone alerts in the event of an emergency or imminent security threat.

Ever vigilant and proactive

Well before the recent wave of bomb threats in the Jewish community, Federation initiated community-wide agency security assessments. In follow-up to the incidents at JCC’s across the country and in the Detroit Jewish community, the U.S Attorney’s office and the FBI invited representatives of the Jewish community to a meeting hosted by Barbara McQuade, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, along with David P. Gelios, the special agent in charge of the Detroit Division of the FBI and their staffs.

One of the many questions raised at the meeting concerned the issue of “fatigue” over repeated threats; in other words, could there be a danger that the community and agencies could somehow let down their guard against an onslaught of repeated bomb threats?  Sikorski’s answer is an emphatic no, “In my mind, we get better and better in our response with each incident. With each threat – and that includes our knowledge of threats around the country – we are challenged to address all circumstances and to identify and fill in the gaps. It’s almost impossible to tabletop or plan a perfect response to a threat or an emergency. Sure, you can have a multi-item checklist, but a real incident will serve to show you that perhaps you will need to address a few more items.

What can we do?

“Collectively, the most important thing we can do is to maintain the life of our vibrant community,” observes Larry Wolfe, President of Federation. “We will not be discouraged or intimidated, and together we will confront hatred and anti-Semitism with our indomitable passion for our unique heritage, culture and community.”

In the coming months, the Jewish Federation and other organizations will host a variety of programs that address the issue of anti-Semitism. Topics will cover both local and overseas trends, and range from the recent threats in our community to the enduring legacy of the Holocaust. Please visit Federation online to check the dates for upcoming events and join the community in exploring these critical and important challenges.