By Susie Davidson for Temple Shalom Emeth
Rabbi Susan Abramson began the Jan. 9 Friday night services at Temple Shalom Emeth in Burlington in her usual manner, with a few remarks about the week’s Torah portion.
But the difference was the line of vehicles outside all the way down the street, with news crews among them, and facing the pulpit, several rows of impressive uniforms and dark suits, worn by some of the most high-ranking law enforcement officials in the state.
Seated there, following a Shabbat dinner, were Boston Police Superintendent In Chief William G. Gross; Chief Robert Bongiorno of Bedford; Chief Brian Kyes of Chelsea; Chief Len Campanello of Gloucester; Chief Robert Picariello of Marblehead; Chief Howard Mintz of Newton; Lt. Colonel Sharon Costine of the Massachusetts State Police; United States Secret Service Assistant Special Agent in Charge Tom Baker; and Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian.
They were among a delegation who participated in a November 8-17 counterterrorism mission in Israel organized by the Anti-Defamation League and funded by the Gal Foundation. It was the fifth such program that the anti-hatred and prejudice organization has sponsored, but the first attended by only Massachusetts officials.
While in Israel, the contingent met with counterparts in both the Israel Police and the Palestinian Civil Police Force.
ADL New England Region Executive Director Robert Trestan Robert Trestan was also at the synagogue, as were police chiefs Kenneth Berkowitz of Canton, Robert J. Ferullo, Jr. of Woburn, Mike Kent of Burlington, and Dan Rosa of Billerica.
“In Exodus Chapter One, Verse 8, we learn that a new king arose in Egypt who did not know Joseph,” Abramson said. “This new Pharaoh chose to keep his distance, and fear the Israelites instead of establishing a friendship and collaboration with them, as his predecessor had done with Joseph. As a result, everyone suffered,” she said, describing the droughts and plagues that then befell the Egyptians.
“This week’s lesson is that we have this choice… to either stay in our own corners and fear one another, or join forces and prosper from the richness of our relationships,” she continued, beckoning to the officials as she thanked them all for being there, and told the capacity crowd about how her friendship with Bongiorno began in the wake of anti-Semitic incidents that occurred the previous year in Bedford, her home town. The chief attended clergy meetings and community forums, spoke at the ADL, brought Middlesex DA Marian Ryan to a discussion group with synagogue members at the Rabbi’s home, and even attended a Passover Seder there.
Services were then accompanied by the synagogue band, led by Cantorial Soloist Ben Silver, keyboardist Phyllis Berlow, bass player and Temple President Steve DiOrio, guitarist Fran Bloomfield, and percussionist Desmond Kaplan.
“Thank you all for being here, for making the time this evening to discover more about each other and how much we have in common,” Abramson told the guests. “And I particularly thank my ‘chief Chief’ for all that you have done and continue to do for the town of Bedford, and for our Jewish community.” She concluded with a salute: “10-4. Over and out. Stand by for Chief Bongiorno.”
Bongiorno asked the officials to come up as the group presented Trestan with a plaque of appreciation.
“We’ve done this trip as a service and an opportunity to experience Israel from a religious and geographic perspective,” said Trestan as he accepted the honor. He said the ADL was already planning another mission for 2015 with another 14 or 15 prople from Massachusetts.
“Shabbat Shalom,” said Koutoujian, as he proceeded to narrate a slide show he and Bongiorno had created of the trip, but not before remarking that Silver lived a couple of blocks from where he had grown up in Waltham, and that Silver’s son attended his old elementary school.
“We stand against racism and anti-Semitism,” Koutoujian said, citing the tragic events in France of the week. “We would like to stand with you as you mourn the loss. What happens in France is felt around the world, and we share your loss,” he said.
Noting how unusual it was to have all of the high ranking law enforcement officials together in one night, he also recalled the 2013 post-Marathon bombing standoff. “Many of us here were in Watertown,” he said. “Yet, every day in Israel, they have to be in fear of that happening every day.”
Praising Trestan’s leadership of the ADL, he showed a slide of all of the police badges of the participating delegation. “We will stay in touch and build upon the relationship that we built in Israel,” he said, noting that many recently joined together to take out an ailing son of an officer in Campanello’s force.
Goals of the trip, Koutoujian explained, included observing the impact of terrorism on daily lives, and how Israeli and Palestinian police handled these threats. “The situation has changed,” he said, “from one of mass attacks and suicide bombers to lone wolf attacks, which poses other challenges and can be more difficult to prevent,” he said.
Bongiorno said that meeting with the Palestinian police showed him how police face universal hurdles in conducting their dutied – “in hiring, retention, equipment, training… we were all cops in a room, sharing what we face as executives 5000 miles apart,” he said.
The group toured police districts and saw how shoppers are searched when entering the Malcha mall. “Their security forces are like small police forces,” he said. “And they train continuously, three timed a day.” He described drills involving the planting of fake bombs: “If they fail, they are terminated. They are constantly testing their employees, so the employees are constantly on alert.”
Koutoujian described visiting religious sites and borders. “There we were – on the border of Israel, Lebanon, and Syria,” he recalled. “We don’t realize how safe we are here.”
He showed a slide of a monitoring room with myriad video screens. “In Israel, security overrides privacy,” he said. “It is not an issue.”
Koutoujian poignantly described visiting Yad Vashem and, of personal significance, the Armenian quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. “We went to a dinner at the St. James Cathedral, and met with the Archbishop Nourhan Manougian and
Father Samuel,” he told the audience.
While touring Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron, the group visited a mosque that stood side by side with a synagogue. He explained that those wishing to pray had to undergo extreme security to get in.
“We walked into the mosque, and I’m not so sure that they wanted us there,” he said. The group was cautioned by their guide that they could not step off the rugs they put out for them. “It was very sad that a place of worship had to go through such security, and those inside should also be so apprehensive about visitors,” he said. “It was not a place of peace. We felt as if we were violating their space.”
But that security was nothing like what the group encountered at Ben Gurion airport. “There is an initial glass wall that is bomb resistant, and trash barrels weigh 100 to 150 pounds, so that if a bomb is put in them, it will blow up inside of them,” he said. “Every part was secure.” he described the intricate system of bag checking and searching. “We askef the Director of Security how the public reacts, and he basically responded, ‘Who cares? You want to travel? If you don’t want to go through our security procedures, then you don’t fly,'” Koutoujian related.
The convivial Bongiorno interrupted with an anecdote that the Sheriff’s own bag was searched, but they only found hair products (this was one of the few humorous “what happens in Israel stays in Israel” anecdotes of the evening bantered between the officials)
The drug interdiction task force was another observational segment of the mission. “There are drugs being transferred in neighborhoods, as well as across a hostile border,” said Koutoujian, who said that they actually saw people throwing bags over the border fence.
He described and showed the mechanics behind the Iron Dome Missile Defense System. “They must also make fast decisions in areas including threat assessments, public instructions, and consequence management,” he said.
“They asked us how long the streets were shut down after the Marathon bombing, and we told them a few days,” Koutoujian recalled. “They said would have had the place reopened in five hours,” he said. “They won’t cower to terrorists, or let their acts shut down the economy.”
The group went to Mike’s Place, the Tel Aviv site of an April, 2003 suicide bombing (that killed three and wounded 50) that Hamas took credit for, and met with a victim of a bus bombing. “She spent several weeks in the hospital, and rode the bus again,” he said. “These are tough people.” The officers themselves said they had to ride in armored vans because of the possibility of rock throwing.
Lessons they learned, explained Koutoujian, included that authorities in Israel are constantly training, and that they take community policing to an entirely different level.
“Life is very different there,” he said. “We are not searched before entering malls. Religious sites don’t have significant police presence.”
Bongiorno said he did not want it to be like that here. “We don’t want to search cars before people go to Burlington Mall,” he said. “We don’t want to be that country that is in constant fear. As law enforcement officers we want to preserve those freedoms.”
Gross said it was strange to see young woman with designer purses in one hand and weapons in the other. “We saw what it means to be Israeli, what it means to be Jewish there,” he said. “Would you want your 18 year old child to be in that position for the next three years?”
The holy city held great meaning for the group. Koutoujian tolf of how Chief Ross laid his hat on the ground by the silver star at the Church of the Nativity, which is believed to be where Christ was born. “And we’d already been to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,” he said.
The speakers stressed that the trip was not about politics. “Within each territory – Areas A, B and C, Israel, Jewish Israel, or the Palestinian Authority, police really don’t care about the political stuff, only as far as it helps them investigate,” said Bongiorno, as he thanked the Rabbi, the audience, “and my brothers and sisters in law enforcement.
“Dayeinu,” said D’Orio. “You are our friends, and are welcome here anytime,” he told the guests.
“I feel so honored to see such a great show of support for our law enforcement,” said Gross to this reporter, as the assembled headed to an Oneg Shabbat dessert reception. “Sometimes it feels like a thankless job we do, and, it is great to, as a community, break bread, share, and know that religion transcends all boundaries when you come together under the love of G-d,” he said. “Baruch atah adonei!”
He stressed the importance of said community. “Preparedness is a state of mind, for the police, the government, and the community,” he said. “We have all learned that you don’t just look to the police to find out where threats are, or the government, or the military. It is also up to the community.”
State Representative Ken Gordon (D-Bedford, Burlington, Bedford and Precinct 3 in Wilmington) called the evening a “tremendous learning experience” as he contrasted life here to that in Israel. “Our local police chiefs travelled to a country where the security threat is constant, and here, we are concerned about security and privacy issues,” he said. “As we heard, the security is so necessary there that citizens have to make certain compromises. It has to take a back seat in a country like Israel.”
Chief Steve Mazzie of Everett; Chief Ken Ferguson of Framingham; Chief Terrence M. Cunningham of Wellesley; United States Marshals Service Marshal John Gibbons; and MBTA Transit Police Chief Ken Green also went on the ADL trip.
Click https://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Shabbat-Dinner-at-Temple-Shalom-Emeth.pdf to learn more about the event.