The recent attacks at the Chabad of Poway and Tree of life synagogue should serve as a wake-up call to educate ourselves and fellow Jews on how to respond should a similar attack occur while we are in synagogue.
According to the FBI, if one finds himself in a building during an active shooter attack, their first option should be to RUN away. If not in a position to run away, they should try to HIDE and barricade themselves in a safe place. If those options aren’t available, as a last resort they should confront, FIGHT and try to stop the attacker.
For the average congregant, running out of the building or hiding and barricading in a safe place is the most pragmatic reaction. However, when it comes to fighting and confronting the attacker, most people wouldn’t have any idea what to do.
What should the average person do when they have no choice but to confront an active shooter?
On one of the first United Airlines flights after the 9/11 hijackings (Sept. 15, 2001), the passengers and crew were afraid that another hijacking was imminent. The brave pilot gave his passengers some guidelines on what to do in case someone tried to hijack the plane. The pilot reminded the passengers that there are many more passengers than hijackers. The pilot requested passengers to quickly stand up, overwhelm and subdue the hijacker the moment his intentions are clear. The pilot told them to immediately throw anything available—pillows, blankets and anything else they could find—at the hijacker. (View full speech @ https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/blanket-advice/.) That flight landed peacefully without incident, but the idea that the pilot shared was well-received by the passengers.
To borrow from this idea:
If an active shooter walks into a packed synagogue, and there is nowhere to run, congregants nearest to the shooter should jump on him to restrain him. Those congregants who are a bit farther away should throw everything available at him, perhaps even if it means throwing religious articles such as siddurim and Chumashim to overwhelm, harm and confuse the shooter, and push him to the ground. Throwing items at the attacker will also obstruct his sight lines and slow his mobility.
If congregants are instructed in the right set of circumstances to have a preprogrammed procedure of standing up to an active shooter by subduing or throwing objects at him, innocent lives may be saved. Congregants who may have felt completely afraid and defenseless may feel more empowered to act. All congregants should understand that during an attack everyone who cannot run and hide needs to work together, even if it means putting their own lives on the line to save others.
Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh.
Disclaimer: Every shul should have their own security plan unique to their space and situation—most notably, shuls with CSS and armed personnel on site. Ideally, entire congregations should have a formal training.
I pray that Hashem should keep us safe from further attacks and put an end to those who seek to harm our communities.
A concerned lifelong Teaneck residentName Withheld Upon Request