This article appeared in the Jan. 9, 2015 Bedford Minuteman. A condensed version also ran in the Jan. 9, 2015 Burlington Union.
Burlington synagogue to host police chiefs and public officials, showcase recent security training mission in Israel
By Susie Davidson
On Jan. 9, Temple Shalom Emeth will be very well protected, as a group of Chiefs of Police and Massachusetts law enforcement and civic officials partake in a Shabbat dinner and services at the Burlington synagogue.
They are among a delegation who recently returned from a November 8-17 Anti-Defamation League-sponsored counterterrorism seminar in Israel, where they met with counterparts in the Israel Police, and also visited with members of the Palestinian Civil Police Force.
It was the fifth such trip organized by the ADL, which, according to its materials, was founded in 1913 and is the world’s leading organization opposing anti-Semitism and hate, through programs and services geared to counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.
Funding for the trip was provided by the Gal Foundation. All participants were senior law enforcement executives from Massachusetts, who included Boston Police Superintendent William G. Gross; Chief Robert Bongiorno of Bedford; Chief Brian Kyes of Chelsea; Chief Steve Mazzie of Everett; Chief Ken Ferguson of Framingham; Chief Len Campanello of Gloucester; Chief Robert Picariello of Marblehead; Chief Howard Mintz of Newton; Chief Terrence M. Cunningham of Wellesley; Lt. Colonel Sharon Costine of the Massachusetts State Police; MBTA Transit Police Chief Ken Green; United States Marshals Service Marshal John Gibbons; United States Secret Service Assistant Special Agent in Charge Tom Baker; and Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian.
Bongiorno said that he returned with a comprehensive appreciation of the work of the Israeli National Police - "not just on the strategies and tactics they employ, but I also gained valuable leadership skills that are needed to fight both crime and terrorism, simultaneously."
Bongiorno and Koutoujian organized a slide show of the trip, which they and others will show and narrate during Shabbat services in Burlington. Gross, second in command of the Boston Police Dept., will be there, along with ADL New England Region Executive Director Robert Trestan.
Police Chiefs Dan Rosa of Billerica, Mike Kent of Burlington, and Robert J. Ferullo, Jr. of Woburn will also attend.
"I invited all the local chiefs of towns where we have Temple members," explained Shalom Emeth Rabbi Susan Abramson. "I thought it would be a good connection for both sides."
Bongiorno said that during the evening, he plans to speak with the other law enforcement executives about their professional and personal experiences in Israel.
It will not be his first visit to Shalom Emeth.
"Last year, there were numerous anti-Semitic incidents in Bedford, which were mostly swastikas drawn in the boys' bathroom at the high school and at Middlesex Community College," said Abramson, who had never been involved in her town of residence prior to the Bedford clergy meetings that began in the wake of these incidents.
Bongiorno would also attend these meetings. "He wanted to do everything in his power to find the perpetrators, and make the Jews in town feel protected," recalled Abramson. "He brought Middlesex DA Marian Ryan to my house to meet with all my Bedford temple members, to ask them what they could do to help them feel supported in addition to the criminal investigation," she said. Bongiorno also got in touch with the ADL, and Abramson became the clergy council liaison to the town police and school departments.
Bongiorno sponsored a regional ADL training session on hate crimes at the Bedford Police Department. "He even wanted to have a Passover seder at the police station," said Abramson, who informed him that it was a holiday that people celebrated with their families. She ended up inviting him to her house for the first seder.
The ADL invited Bongiorno, Abramson and Bedford School Superintendant Jon Sills to speak at their Spring, 2014 board meeting, to demonstrare how one town responded to a situation such as what occurred in Bedford. Ultimately, the ADL chose Bongiorno to attend the seminar in Israel.
"He also came to speak at our Temple on Holocaust Memorial Day last spring, and gave an impromptu, very moving talk during the service," said Abramson, who said the two have stayed in touch about incidents that have unfortunately continued, although not at the high school.
"He was very excited about going on the trip, and I asked him to take a lot of pictures and invited him to speak about it after he came back," she said. When Bongiorno offered to bring others from the trip, Abramson invited Trestan.
"I thought this would be a great opportunity for our members to outreach to the chiefs of police in the other towns we serve, to build a relationship and understanding in advance of these kinds of anti-Semitic events happening there, which inevitably they will," she observed.
"Temple Shalom Emeth is honored to be hosting this important event," said synagogue President Steve DiOrio. "We're especially proud of our relationship with local and statewide law enforcement officials. I commend these police chiefs for participating in the program. "
Abramson invited local officials as well, including State Rep. Ken Gordon (D-Bedford, Burlington, Bedford and Precinct 3 in Wilmington). "I believe we can learn a lot from the security forces in Israel," said Gordon. "Israel lives in constant threat of terrorist attack, and is certainly vigilant about protecting its citizens and borders."
Bongiorno said the training in Israel was one of the highlights of his law enforcement career. "It was a transformative experience for me both personally and professionally," he recalled. "The trip provided both valuable counterterrorism training and unprecedented networking opportunities, and although most participants had a prior working knowledge of each other before the trip, the bond was strengthened, and we will continue to develop the relationships we established in Israel." He said that such plans were already in the works.
Participants were also able to tour the historic region, and Bongiorno said he appreciated visiting the holy sites, as well as the opportunity to meet with executives from the Palestinian Authority Police.
"We live in a community of nations, and it is important that we learn from each other," echoed Gordon. "Just as our towns are stronger when they get together on certain common interests and address issues regionally, our nations are also stronger when we reach out to other countries to combine resources and knowledge."
Bongiorno was surprised to discover that, in fact, many similarities also exist between law enforcement agencies all over the world. "The seminar was about policing and not politics," he said. "And what was profound for me, even 5000 miles away in a foreign land, were the challenges that the Palestinian police face," he said. "Their executives spoke about the lack of sufficient resources for training, equipment, and hiring and retention. And, thousands of miles away, executives in Massachusetts face some of the same challenges!"
Bongiorno said that on Jan. 9, he will highlight the need for municipal police chiefs to remain vigilant about threats in their communities. But, as he observed on the trip, support is key. "It is imperative we educate our elected officials on the federal level that local communities need the resources from the federal government to combat any future threats," he said, affirming that the initial local police response is going the first barrier of defense. "We must continue to fight for local resources to meet these changing demands of the 21st century," he said. "We should not have to wait for another terrorist act, like what occurred in Boston and Watertown, to continually update our training and equipment."
Attendees look forward to seeing the presentation and learning about what the officials' training experience. "Israel has been on the forefront of security issues for many years, and we can certainly benefit from hearing about her experience," said Gordon.
And of course, it wouldn't be a Jewish event without the critical element of traditional food, and lots of it. "Bongiorno said the only regret they had on the trip was that they never got to have a traditional Shabbat dinner, so I promised them all we would have one for them," she said.
According to the ADL release, another trip is already being planned for next year. “The counterterrorism training that occurs for these officers in Israel is intricately connected to preventing and combating anti-Semitism here in the United States,” said Trestan.