A POLICE CAR, unmarked but with blue lights flashing, was parked in front of my Brookline synagogue when I arrived for Shabbat services late Saturday afternoon. Since Orthodox Jews don't turn on the TV, radio, or computer on the Sabbath, I knew nothing about the horrifying slaughter that had occurred at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh six hours earlier. But my local police department knew, and had dispatched an officer to be on hand as congregants like me showed up for the late-Sabbath worship — just in case.
After Shabbat ended on Saturday night, the National Council of Young Israel, an umbrella organization of about 135 Orthodox synagogues across North America, emailed a statement expressing "tremendous shock and extreme pain" at the bloodbath in Pittsburgh. But the council's message went beyond voicing communal grief.
"This massacre is a stark reminder of the need for every synagogue to employ security measures to keep their congregants safe," it said. "With anti-Semitic incidents in the United States on the rise and an uptick in religion-based hate crimes, it is critical that steps be taken to harden our synagogues."
In the America I grew up in, synagogues didn't have to be hardened. The shuls I attended —as a kid in suburban Cleveland, as a college student in Washington, DC, and for years after moving to Boston — were open to all and largely unconcerned with security. The same was true of the Jewish day schools I attended, and the campus Hillel House where I used to eat, and the Jewish bookstores I sometimes visited.
In the America I grew up in, Jews had nothing to fear from their neighbors. . . .