Who is really protecting you and your families’ Jewish life?

13 Jul 2018 by CST

As an outsider, looking in on an event that CST is securing, you might notice the one or two CST security volunteers on the door, checking names on the guest list and waving you in. You might have spotted an earpiece or an ID badge in passing, and you hopefully said thank you, before moving into the event and forgetting all about it. This is exactly what we at CST want. We want you to remember the event, rather than the security, because that means that we have done our job well, without fanfare and attention.

CST secured the Chief Rabbi’s Conference at a synagogue in North London last week. Like all of the events CST protects, the volunteer security team was made up of an assortment of people from within the community: from working mums to builders and medical professionals to business managers. This was a dedicated team, each one having given up other commitments – usually involving their work – to be there to cover this weekday and daytime shift. Those volunteers who work for others may have booked the day off as holiday specially. Others were self-employed and knew that they would be working late that night to catch up on lost time. Some had chosen to volunteer on their day off, knowing that their other commitments and errands would have to wait. According to one self-employed volunteer, each year his CST volunteering costs him around £3,000 in lost contracts and missed business opportunities, but “I have probably made it back in the connections I’ve made and networking opportunities I’ve had through volunteering with CST.”

So how does a volunteer prepare for a shift as a Volunteer Security Officer? The physical preparations are simpler, but still require time and thought, working through the familiar equipment checklist, getting the essential kit ready and laying it out on the bedroom chair the night before. Team-wide, physical preparations will include sending out messages to team members to arrange lifts, or the Team Leader sending out a quick email to confirm last minute shift details.

But before a volunteer even gets to this stage of preparing for an event, each one will have dedicated countless hours of their time to learning the theory behind security and each will have spent even more hours learning self-defence skills and physical security with CST’s dedicated training department. 

The emotional preparations on the day of an event differ from volunteer to volunteer, with some feeling excited for the shift ahead, going over scenarios and tips from recent training or looking forward to meeting the team. For the majority, the emotional preparation is more pensive: acknowledging the fact that by volunteering in this way, they are putting their lives on the line. The volunteers know that in recent years two Jewish volunteer security officers have been killed protecting our Jewish communities across the globe. In 2003, 24 people were murdered when two synagogues were attacked in Istanbul, including Yoel Cohen Ulcer Z"L, who was protecting the Beth Israel synagogue. In 2015, in an attack at the Great Synagogue of Copenhagen, Dan Uzan Z”L was murdered whilst protecting his Jewish community. Our volunteers know that as Volunteer Security Officers, they too could be the first target should an attack occur. As one volunteer put it, “I tell myself that today might be my last day alive and I hope for an uneventful shift.”

So why do they do it? Why do these women and men from our community train, qualify and volunteer as CST Volunteer Security Officers? One volunteer explained that “for me, it is the idea that I want our community to be able to defend itself against those who hate us for no reason and to be strong, and I very much want to be part of that.” For others, it’s a sense of duty; of doing something useful, necessary and tangible that will keep the community safe and allow it to thrive. For those with children, the idea that CST volunteering is vital to the continuation of an active and diverse Jewish life here in the UK is key. As one volunteer put it, “I want my kids to be able to go to Jewish events, to go to synagogue on Shabbat morning and to have those options, and I do this shift, knowing that others will be doing other shifts for events that I attend in my free time with my kids. I like being part of that community support network.” For others, having children means that they want to volunteer to show the intrinsic value in giving something back to the community: be it helping the elderly, running a children’s service at synagogue, or doing security at a communal event.

Volunteering for CST can also be extremely fulfilling. Co-volunteers often become friends, there are opportunities to be part of close-knit and professionally-run teams and events are varied. Events range from large galas at the finest hotels, Chanukah lightings for thousands and huge annual events like the AJEX Parade in London, to smaller local gatherings and synagogue rotas, where attendees are likely to be a volunteer’s own friends and community.

Volunteer training is also a huge advantage for many volunteers. It provides skills, strength and a chance to socialise and meet new people. As one volunteer at the Chief Rabbi’s conference shared, “I definitely feel more streetwise, and I am more aware of the dangers that face us, but I am also much more confident that if anything were to happen I’m better equipped to look after myself. I want my wife and kids to train, so that they will also have a bit more confidence.”

So, when you head to your next Jewish event, know that those who are securing it are there for you. They have given you their time and their dedication, to make sure that you stay safe. Do your duty: continue to thrive, continue to go to Jewish events, continue to enjoy a vibrant Jewish life and remember to say thank you.

If you feel you could dedicate your time to train and become a CST Volunteer Security Officer, please get in touch with the CST training department.

If you feel you are unable to volunteer but recognise the importance of protecting our Jewish community, please donate to ensure CST can continue to train all our volunteers who protect you and your family and so our crucial work can continue.

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“I never stop being amazed at the professional, selfless and totally dedicated commitment shown by the CST staff and volunteers. Our community is indebted to CST for the comprehensive protection the organisation provides, which sadly is so very necessary at this time.”

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth