After the Pittsburgh attack, states go on alert while synagogues decide between guards and open doors

Tree of Life synagogue only saw police presence on High Holidays. On an ordinary day like Saturday, the door...

Posted: Oct 28, 2018 9:27 PM
Updated: Oct 28, 2018 9:27 PM

Tree of Life synagogue only saw police presence on High Holidays. On an ordinary day like Saturday, the doors would stay open, and anyone could walk in.

But after the massacre at the Pittsburgh house of worship, synagogues like it aren't taking any chances.

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Several states have increased police presence at religious institutions. And religious leaders are grappling with the delicate balance between welcoming and wary.

Debating armed guards at synagogues

Soon after the attack, President Donald Trump said the shooter could have been stopped if Tree of Life had armed guards. He suggested holy places might want to consider such protection.

"They had a maniac walk in and they didn't have any protection and that is just so sad to see," he said.

It's often a difficult decision to make, said Eric Robbins, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation in Atlanta.

"Trying to find a balance between being welcoming to a community and security is a difficult balance to find," he told CNN.

And every synagogue is different when it comes to safety, he said.

"My synagogue has armed security guards, many of them do."

READ: Here's what we know so far about the shooting suspect

Increasing police presence

The federation tweeted earlier today that it has already heightened security in the Atlanta community after the Pittsburgh attack.

In Florida, Governor Rick Scott also said he will increase state trooper patrols at houses of worship across the state. He also directed local police departments to determine how to boost safety precautions in religious communities.

"There is no place in America for intolerance and violence, and we will do everything in our power to protect Floridians who are peacefully gathered to worship," he said. "As Governor, I will take any action necessary to protect our communities. Everyone deserves to be able to express their religious freedom safely and peacefully."

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also issued a statement directing state police to increase patrols. New York is home to one of the country's largest Jewish communities.

"We as a nation, must stand together and stand against the corrosive and destructive forces of hate in all of its forms," he said.

Authorities do not believe there is an ongoing threat to other synagogues in the Pittsburgh area, but law enforcement there is on alert.

No prior threats at Tree of Life

At Tree of Life synagogue, three simultaneous Shabbat services take place in the main part of the building on Saturdays.

The synagogue had not received any threats, but former president of the congregation Michael Eisenberg said he kept a watchful eye "because of what's going on in the current climate."

"You see these bombs being mailed across the country," he said. "And our security was really just that, nobody has ever tried. It was just the fact that nobody ever tried to do anything. Like most religious institutions, we have an open door."

Chuck Diamond, a former rabbi at Tree of Life, said survival may have come down to those who arrived on time for services and those who didn't.

"Jews come late for services, so for a lot of people that's probably a good thing today," he said.

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