Synagogue in Europe
Synagogue in EuropeHadas Parush/Flash90

The European Jewish Congress (EJC) hosted a conference in Brussels focused on improving security in places of worship across Europe.

SASCE (Safer and Stronger communities in Europe) brought together Jewish, Buddhist, Christian and Muslim communities on a common project to improve security in places of worship in EU countries.

The EJC noted that the security risk to places of worship has increased over the last decade. The SASCE project was supported by the European Commission Internal Security Fund in order to “meet the advice, capacity and risk assessment needs of faith institutions around risk to them and their congregations.”

“Over the last decade, churches, mosques and synagogues have been targeted by extremists, thieves and vandals who have sought to harm or damage the property and congregations associated with faith institutions,” the EJC said in a statement. “In France, Christian priests have been murdered by extremists, whilst in Belgium and other countries in Europe, Jewish communities have suffered the deadly brunt of individuals who have been radicalized by Islamist extremist groups like the so-called Islamic State.”

The SASCE project began in April 2021. Since then it has been active in 15 EU nations and has advised dozens of synagogues, churches, mosques and Buddhist temples, which the EJC explained have been under increased threats due to extremists radicalized by geopolitical events and increased risk of theft as Europe’s economy has taken a sharp downturn over the last year.

“It is essential that we get a mindset shift within faith communities. The old days of ‘G-d protects us’ need to be addressed in reality because faith institutions can help themselves through security advice and information through the SASCE project,” said Ophir Revach of the Security and Crisis Centre by the European Jewish Congress (SACC) partner agency. “We know that there are multiple risks to these faith institutions and half of what we do, is to get a mindset shift in the leadership before our work with them truly gets underway.”

Yohan Benizri, former president of the Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organizations in Belgium (CCOJB), said: “Before we can have pride in our values and practice our faith, we need to have safe places of worship. Security it is not a value in itself, it is a condition to flourish. When you are protecting minorities and congregations of any size, you are protecting democracy.”

From his personal experience as the former leader of the Belgian Jewish community, Benizri noted that “the level of security awareness and risk assessment within Belgian Jewish communities has increased dramatically. Our expertise and good relations with other minorities has been the perfect ground to apply the lessons of SASCE.”