Jacksonville synagogues, Jewish community centers focus on safety amid Israel-Hamas conflict

As tensions rise over the Israel-Hamas war in the Middle East, many are concerned about their safety even in the United States.

Jacksonville’s Jewish community was already on high alert and many members are especially concerned about their security now.

Although there are no credible threats here, the head of security for Jacksonville’s synagogues and community centers is working to ease fears while beefing up safety.

On Tuesday night, hundreds of members of Jacksonville’s Jewish community came together for a vigil that had heavy security.

“We had a number of uniformed Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office police officers there both inside and outside the synagogue,” said Alex Silverstein, Security Director for the Jewish Federation and retired FBI special agent.

Even before the war, there was a rise in antisemitism and threats. Now those fears are heightened.

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“There are a few people that are panicking, that do not want to go to synagogue that they are afraid to go to Jewish institutions. My belief right now is that that type of panic is unwarranted. And that it is safe to go to synagogue, it is safe to go to Jewish institutions. My office is in a Jewish institution, my wife and I are attending synagogue, I will gladly go into any synagogue,” Silverstein said.

He also has a personal perspective because just two months ago he was part of a delegation of law enforcement leaders in Israel alongside Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters and commanders from other agencies that met with Israeli police and soldiers. Some photos taken had Gaza in the background.

“The threat was looming, certainly from rocket attacks,” he said. “But we really did not have any discussions about a ground attack. We were given instructions in case there were red alert sirens for missile attacks we never discussed, well, while we were over there of what to do in case of infiltrators.”

Silverstein remembers responding to the Pentagon as an FBI medic after the 9/11 attacks and has investigated many cases of terrorism.

Now, hired to protect the Jacksonville Jewish community, he is overseeing security measures that he won’t disclose for safety reasons and reassuring the congregation there are no credible threats here.

“If there’s a question about social media reports of threatened attacks, contact your local law enforcement, contact me the community security director. Let’s get to the bottom of this. Bad information is poisonous, and it can only be combated by good information, which at the Jewish Federation Foundation, we are committed to providing this community with good information. Wherever there are rumors of potential attacks, we will vet them if they’re true. I will tell you will take precautions,” Silverstein said.

Silverstein said he’s been in contact with local sheriffs and he’s grateful they reached out and offered support.

On Thursday he has meetings with more elected officials. He said anyone from the community with concerns can email him at security@jewishJacksonville.org.

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