After the Sept. 11 attacks, I remember that my family’s synagogue in DC tightened security for the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). It always had some security: elected officials and Israeli embassy staff often attended, so there was a slight presence. But in 2001, things were ratcheted up (and like all security procedures, have never been lowered). For Rosh Hashanah, this wasn’t a problem, but for Kol Nidre (the evening service for Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year), this became ridiculous.
For those unfamiliar with Jewish services, many people show up late. I won’t get into why that is, but here’s a friendly tip: if someone’s bar or bat mitzvah on a Saturday starts at 9 am, you can be there at 9:45 am (and our services are very long…). But the one service that no one is late to is Kol Nidre since all the really important stuff happens at the beginning and has to happen before sunset (technically, this part of the service happens before Yom Kippur begins)*.
So in 2001, thanks to the tightened security, people were only being let in through one door. Thousands of people all trying to get in, while having their purses and bags searched. So there is a huge single file of Jews standing outside on the sidewalk, and all I can think is “We’re kind of exposed.” Paranoid? Perhaps, but consider this by the former head of security for Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv:
But thanks to the layout of modern American airports, he doesn’t even have to get through security. The TSA conveniently packs hundreds of travelers together in cramped security lines. Terrorists love crowds because they can inflict the most harm that way. Anyone who watches the news knows that. So what does American airport security do? It gathers folks together in long lines BEFORE they’ve been scanned at all.
Our security theater isn’t really keeping us safe, but it is heightening tensions and anxieties. I don’t think that was the original intent, but, on the other hand, it’s probably not an undesirable outcome. It also allows politicians and other officials to claim they’re doing something, even if it’s ineffective.
*That’s when all of our unfulfilled vows to God are made null and void