Photo of a gate in front of a synagogue in Poland. Photo by Emmanuel DYAN, Flickr CC

On November 9th, 1938, thousands of Jewish stores, homes, and places of worship across Nazi Germany were destroyed by extremist mobs. During Kristallnacht, or “The Night of Broken Glass,” dozens of Jews were murdered and another 30,000 were sent to concentration camps in this crucial shift from anti-Semitic language to physical violence. This year’s commemoration of Kristallnacht comes in the aftermath of the shooting of 11 Jewish congregants in a Pittsburgh synagogue. In recent years, ideologically motivated violence has been increasing against religious minorities. Jewish and Muslim congregations have heightened their security measures in the face of such threats. In a new article in The Conversation, Christopher Scheitle and Jeffery Ulmer analyze these increased protections and the heightened fear among many religious minorities in their spaces of worship.

Using surveys and interviews, Scheitle and Ulmer conducted a study of over 1,300 congregations to examine crime and security in religious spaces. While many congregations experienced vandalism or theft regardless of religion,  synagogues and mosques experienced threats of violence at much higher rates:

“Crimes, most commonly vandalism and theft, were committed at about 40 percent of congregations in the year prior to the survey. This overall percentage was not significantly different across religious traditions. When we dug deeper, though, we found that synagogues and mosques deal with crime-related problems that are much different than the average church. Our survey found, for instance, that synagogues and mosques were three times more likely than congregations overall to have received an explicit threat in the prior year.”

Many synagogues and mosques have sought to respond to these threats through increased security. In comparison to other religions, Jewish and Muslim congregations have incorporated many more security cameras and guards. However, these implementations are not without cost:

“Our interviews found that most places of worship have a hard time implementing security. Some of this is simply not enough money. Larger and wealthier congregations tend to have more security in place. Beyond resources, our interviews consistently found that places of worship view security measures as a potential threat to their mission of creating a sacred space that is open to their communities.”

Scheitle and Ulmer suggest that congregations can better protect themselves through cost free measures, like limiting entrances to places of worship, and through community partnerships. A knowledge of the legacies of anti-Semitism and other forms of religious discrimination also emphasizes the need for compassion and concern in the wake of such tragedies.