Jewish institutions in South Florida assess security after Pittsburgh shooting

'We really, really focus on being proactive versus reactive,' expert says

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – At the Lubavitch Educational Center in Miami Gardens, metal gates and guards are the first thing visitors see as they drive up.

LEC, as it’s known, is the largest Jewish school in southeastern United States and security is one of their highest priorities.

Zalman Myer Smith is the director of security for Chabad of Florida.

“We really, really focus on being proactive versus reactive,” Myer Smith said.

It’s hard for a lot of these synagogues or shuls to give specifics on their security strategies, but experts like Myer Smith said it’s all about prevention and having a plan in place.

As an Orthodox Jew with more than 20 years of experience in security, Myer Smith uses his skills to help Jewish groups around the state be prepared for the worst.

“We’re looking for ways that a terrorist, a shooter, a thief, even a pedophile would look to cause a breach and how to make it much, much harder for them,” Myer Smith said.

In the wake of the attack in Pittsburgh, Myer Smith said has seen an uptick in calls for his help. 

It’s something he said is normal after a situation like this -- but it never gets any easier.

“You never want to hear it. It’s a house of worship. It’s the Sabbath with the family is getting all together and you would think or at least hope that you are safe on that day,” Myer Smith said.

Gary Gershman is a professor in the Department of History and Political Science at Nova Southeastern University.

“The history of America is filled with anti-immigration anti-Semitism, anti-Catholic, anti-Irish obviously racism against blacks,” Gershman said.

He said while U.S. history is filled with violent acts like this, there used to be more of a middle-ground for people on both sides to meet in -- and he worries that may not be possible in today’s political climate.

“It’s harder and harder to challenge something without being challenged back and getting into this polarized, vitriolic environment we’re in now,” Gershman said.

About the Author:

Ian Margol joined the Local 10 News team in July 2016 as a general assignment reporter. Born in Miami Beach and raised in Broward County, Ian is thrilled to be back home in South Florida.