By Eliana Rudee
Just one month before the deadliest anti-Semitic mass shooting in American history on Oct. 27, 2018, which took the lives of 11 Jewish worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue, Eilon Even-Esh was at a Jewish community in the city teaching self-defense. Unfortunately, he remembers, the class had a low turnout.
However, in light of the rise of anti-Semitism over the last few years and especially since the Monsey machete attack on Dec. 28 at a rabbi’s home at a Chanukah celebration, Even-Esh’s phone has been ringing off the hook.
Even-Esh, who served in an elite unit in the Israeli Defense Forces where he learned Krav Maga (an IDF-developed style of self-defense) and later served as a captain in the US Marine Corps, has made it his mission to “instill strength and confidence” in Jewish communities throughout the US.
Even-Esh focuses particularly on observant communities because their members are visibly Jewish; and, this community tends to be less equipped for self-defense, despite being over-represented as the target of anti-Semitic attacks.
Because these communities choose not to learn at co-ed karate dojos, they have less access to self-defense, he said. Plus, its members “grow up in an un-athletic world.” This is why he teaches religious communities the techniques of self-defense.
His active shooter and stabber seminars teach people of all sizes and strengths to defend themselves.
Though Moses, Joshua, King David and the Maccabees in the Chanukah story were all fighters, Even-Esh says: “Outside of Israel, for a few thousand years now Jews have not been fighters, and that’s painful for me. I want to be able to teach as many people who are not as effective in protecting themselves to [do so], so we are less of a target.”
As anti-Semitic attacks have risen in America and abroad, people have become nervous —“the community is waking up,” he said.
In addition to his seminars, Even-Esh offers a military-style security assessment for Jewish institutions.
He covertly assesses the effectiveness of the infrastructure and security awareness of the community.
Working with a grant writer, he uses his assessment to help communities apply for state funding from local governments and the Dept. of Homeland Security, both responsible for securing religious institutions in the US.
Just a day or two before the attack in a Monsey home, said Even-Esh, a yeshiva in Monsey that he assessed received $50,000 from Homeland Security to improve the security of its facilities, though the funding took more than a year to arrive.
Other organizations are also working to improve self-defense in Jewish communities in the United States and around the world.
The Jewish Agency’s Security Assistance Fund has been providing support to more than 600 Jewish communities, primarily in Europe and South America, for seven years.
Security cameras, doors and locks sponsored in large part by the Jewish Agency’s fund prevented an attacker from entering a synagogue in Halle, Germany, this past Yom Kippur that was the target of an anti-Semitic attack.
“We’re committed to enabling Jewish life to thrive in communities around the world in safety,” Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog told JNS.
“Today, unfortunately, we are seeing time and again the importance of our investment in enhancing security measures at Jewish institutions. Jews must be able to live freely and safely everywhere.”
Also based in Israel, Magen David Adom’s “First Seven Minutes” course uses its expertise in dealing with multiple casualty incidents to teach life-saving skills to communities around the world — in the crucial first seven minutes prior to the arrival of an ambulance (seven minutes is MDA’s target ambulance response time).
ZAKA scooters arrives even sooner.
The MDA program, according to deputy director Eli Bin, is intended to provide tools that will assist Jewish communities abroad in dealing with terror attacks.
“Over this past year, we have taught hundreds of people and given them these vital life-saving tools,”he said.
“We are pleased that the participants describe great satisfaction with the program and its contents, and report that they feel a greater sense of preparedness in light of the ever-growing security threats.”
Magen David Adom has taught the course in Jewish and non-Jewish community centers, schools and places of worship worldwide, with future courses planned for the US.
Said Bin. “The communities need to feel that they know what to do when an incident occurs, and that they will be able to save lives.”