The Matzav Shmoooze: A Plea To Our Yeshivos And Camps In The Wake Of The Newtown Massacre


schoolbooksDear Editor,

A number of years ago, I sent a letter to the owner of a very prominent sleep-away camp in Monticello, New York. My letter expressed my concern for the physical safety of the campers, especially in light of the fact that in foothills of the Catskill Mountains, on the outskirts of Hancock, New York, a radical Islamic para-military training facility named Islamberg had recently opened. I wondered if there was some way to get real security at the entrance to this sleep-away camp, since other than a ramshackle booth with no one in it, there really was a complete lack of security at this camp (and I feared other camps as well).

Call me crazy or paranoid, but I know that our most precious jewels are our children and their safety is paramount in our minds at all times. Needless to say, I received no response. You may say that perhaps the owner never received my email or, worse, chose to ignore my letter altogether. Either way, I was disappointed that we could not even have a conversation about security.

Even if in theory nothing more can be done (which I highly doubt), no security guard(s) could be posted in and around camps, and no security drills (besides the fire drill they have once a summer) could be conducted, I thought that at least broaching the subject would be valuable. Alas, I was ignored.

This past summer, I went to visit my nephews at a camp in Swan Lake, NY. I was in the area and it was Friday afternoon, so I figured I would just drop by to see how they were doing. Well, as I drove into the camp parking lot, I was not surprised to see that proverbial ramshackle hut that every camp seems to have at their entrance, but there was no one in or near it to ask me who I was and what I was doing there, since clearly it was not visiting day. Don’t get me wrong. It was a beautiful sight seeing what must have been close to one hundred boys playing basketball and football in the open fresh air of the Catskill Mountains. I was thrilled to see my nephews and glad that after all their hard work in yeshiva during the year, they had the opportunity to get in much-needed exercise in an overall relaxed atmosphere, but I was a bit unnerved that there was no security. G-d forbid, I thought to myself, anyone could walk right into this place and do the unthinkable.

We all love our children and would do anything to protect them. Our hearts go out to the parents of all those little first graders who were brutally murdered this past Friday in Newton, Connecticut. It is an unthinkable crime and we shudder to imagine what these children must have been feeling during their final moments, having their innocence ripped away together with their pure souls. We cannot even begin to fathom the pain that these parents will have to endure for the rest of their shattered lives, and nothing we can ever say will assuage their pain. But for those of us who are not directly affected and for those of us who are a little bit removed, we can more easily reflect on the lessons that we must learn. I dare suggest that the yeshivos and sleep-away camps that we send our precious children to need to do much more about security.

Just this morning, I did something I had never done. I intentionally attempted (successfully, I might add) to walk into a prominent local yeshiva here in Flatbush, Brooklyn, to “test” their security. I was elated at first when I tried to open the front door to the elementary school and found it locked. I then tried the door next to it and found that it was also locked. I thought to myself, “Maybe this yeshiva does have a high level of security.” My hopes were very quickly dashed as I walked around to another entrance and pulled on the door, hoping it would be locked. Unfortunately, it was not. I was able to walk right in and go up to the second floor, right past the first and second grades, peering into the classrooms and making eye contact with the teachers.

Now, it is true that I was not wearing camouflaged fatigues, nor was I carrying a rifle or wearing a kafiya and screaming, “Allahu Akbar!” but the fact is that anyone with nefarious intentions could have easily walked right up to the first grade just as I did. It is also true that perhaps this random yeshiva that I chose was the exception and not the rule, but I think we all know better. I was deflated, to say the least.

Will you exclaim that it can never happen in our yeshivos or camps and I am just paranoid? Why can’t it happen? It happened at an otherwise tranquil sleep-away camp in Norway in 2011. 85 campers there were killed. Furthermore, who would have thought, a week ago, that it could happen in a nice, comfortable, middle class, American, sleepy town like Newton, Connecticut?

We now know that we are all susceptible, regardless of the community we live in. In addition, it already happened in a yeshiva last March in Toulouse, France. “Oh,” you will cry out, “you are just mongering unwarranted fear, because we simply do not have such crazy madmen in our midst.” You’re probably right (though after the Leiby Kletzky tragedy, I am not so sure), but we live in a big city of over eight million people, and, in fact, some of us live just mere blocks from the mosque where Yousef Ramzi, one of the masterminds of the first World Trade Center bombing, went to conspire with some of his accomplices. I would venture to say that only someone with their head in the sand truly believes that this could never ever happen, Rachmana litzlan, to our precious diamonds by a madman outside our community.

If we, as a community, search within ourselves and are ready to have a real conversation, then we need to be truthful and start implementing more security in our yeshivos and camps to further protect our most precious loved ones, our kinderlach.

These poor children in Newton had gone through safety drills. They even had locked doors, and it now seems from a very preliminary report that nobody was able to get into that Newton school without being buzzed in through a locked entrance, and the only reason the shooter was able to gain entrance was because he was a son of a teacher there who they recognized.

We all know that most yeshivos and camps do not even have that modicum of security. Can we honestly say that we have security guards, security drills (not fire drills), etc.?  Does it make sense to suggest that since security at Sandy Hook Elementary was not able to stop a determined madman that we, as a community and as parents, should not demand from our yeshivos and camps increased levels of security? Why shouldn’t every parent demand that the yeshiva have at least one security guard who is hooked up to local law enforcement and more, if possible? Why shouldn’t parents demand that the yeshivos explain to them how they are going to protect the kinderlach so that they can be protected and secure and can be expected to come home safely to their mother’s arms when they walk through the door after a whole day at school?

It is true that it may slightly increase the cost of an already high tuition, but which emotionally stable and healthy parent would not readily give all they could for the security and safety of their children? Lemaan Hashem, let us not wait until, G-d forbid, it is too late. Let us demand from our yeshivos, schools and camps to take the appropriate security measures now so that together with the hevel pihem shel tinokoos shel bais rabbon, the sweet words of Torah from our little ones, they and children everywhere can, with G-d’s help, be better protected.

Jacob Hirsch Esq.

{ Newscenter}


  1. I agree 100 percent but let’s be a little more discreet .goyim might read this and we don’t want to give them any ideas chas veshalom.

  2. Our local day school has an armed security guard (from the city/county police force) who patrols the halls and outside. This should be the minimum. Another alternative is to use retired officers (or current staff members) who are properly trained and can legally carry weapons. Schools that prohibit any weapons inside also keep guards from having any–a bad mistake.

    By the way, the early Newtown CT news reports were full of errors.

  3. Mr hirsh whe I agree that security is a must and our yeshivas were ever so happy to take homes e security funds yes they have done very little. But I have gone to severallyocal yeshivas and needed to be buzzed in
    If you have such concerns home school your kids a d don’t send them to camp
    More peps are killed by cars then GUNS and very few schools are attacked in this manor
    But who appointed you as the chief inspector of our camps and schools

  4. I agree that you shouldn’t have been able to walk so easily into the yeshiva, although are you aware that you were trespassing? A security guard should’ve held you and called the police.

    However, there is no realistic way we can secure our camps, unless you want to spend considerably more on camp fees than you arleady do. Can you imagine what it would take to secure an area that size?

    In terms of drills, I think that would take away any sense of security our kids have.

    Given that making our camps “secure”, as you describe suggest, is practically and financially not a reality, I suggest we continue to do what we should have been doing all along – davening for our kids’ safety.

  5. Yes we need to be responsible about security. But ultimately it is all up to Hashem. There is nothing we can do which will GUARANTEE it will not happen. Each institution needs a hishtadlus/bitachon balance… psak from a Rav.

  6. I agree, but a monster would likely not show up with a keffiyah. We have to be careful with everyone we don’t personally know, regardless of their clothings.

  7. In the Newtown case, the gunman shot his way through a door to get into the school. The door was locked. Of course that dosn’t mean there should be easy access to our schools but someone who wants to get in will find a way to get in. I don’t mean to sound morbid but I believe the only way to fully protect our schools especially during drop off and dismissal times is to have an armed guard at all times who can quickly shoot a potential madman, and thats if the gunman dosn’t shoot him first. However, realistically our schools dont have the money for this. If all the parents were willing to pay an additional cost each year to help cover an armed security guard then there is potential for it to happen.

  8. To Really?
    I believe that was his point that ANYONE can unfortunately appoint themselves!!
    It sounds like you are not a parent, as no normal parent would talk about this topic the way you do

  9. Really ! You are mistaken. You make it seem that security is a mistake. Doors need to be locked. A guard is a good thing to have if possible. Homeland Security gave millions of $$ to schools and yeshivas, They spent much of the money on cameras. Cameras only record the incident but offer no protection. All doorsshould be locked at all times and be protected with bullet proof glass. School yards are another issue. Why not supplement the school crossing guard with a Police officer. A detterent is a wonderful thing.

  10. the newtown killer was not allowed in cause his mother worked there as she didnt work there, he shot his way in! just saying ‘im hashem lo yishmor ir shov shakad shomer’

  11. Mr. Hirsch, you are correct. Security in most yeshivos and camps is very lax. Even at my children’s yeshiva, where there is a full time security group (four men), it is easy to come and go.

    The problem is: What can be done? Short of turning schools and camps into prisons, the answer is very little. Yes, doors can be locked, requiring everyone to enter through a main door where there is some security. But what about letting the children play outside? And in the Catskills, what are you going to do? Fence in the entire camp? Even that can be easily breached.

    The fact is that anyone with nefarious ideas can infiltrate nearly any building or campsite. Which leaves us with only one resposne: Emunah and Tefillah. At the end of the day, we have to recognize: Malach hamaves mah li hacha ma li hasam.

    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t make a hishtadlus; I’m saying that there really isn’t a hishtadlus that will provide the level of safety we seek, without putting our children in self-imposed jails.

  12. MR Hirsh is 100% correct. I am a counselor in a prominent camp in wood-ridge, and there is no security what so ever. I’m not talking about armed guards, I’m saying there is no one who would have any clue what to do if god forbid someone came in to the camp and started shooting. And I know for a fact from other counselors in different camps that it is exactly the same by them.
    I’m not saying that we have to go crazy and start investing millions of dollars of security measures. But is something to keep are kids safe to much to ask?

  13. I just wanted to write in that I went to Camp Bnos for over 6 years. The security is top notch, with a guard at the main driveway, and the main entrance only unlocked on Visiting Day and NO ONE is allowed to just wander in. I would like to publicly thank Rabbi Meir Frishman and Mrs. Shonny Shmaltz for guaranteeing our safety each summer. May they continue to be matzliach in all that they do for Klal Yisroel’s children.

  14. Sounds like some of you guys have so much “bitachon” that you would leave your house doors unlocked. Or would you? Its not bitachon its foolishness!


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