Interview: Zak Meiri
Only a few weeks ago we were shocked and saddened by the news of the deadly act of anti-Semitism at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. Many of us here at The Friends of Israel were teaching or working at prophecy conferences around the U.S. and when we heard the news we immediately stopped and prayed for those in harm’s way and for the families of the victims. Why is there a such hatred towards the Jewish people? We will learn today that it is a spiritual issue and how the Jewish people are working to protect themselves.
We welcome to the program this week Zak Meiri, Deputy Director of the Community Security Service (CSS). Zak will explain how the CSS is helping the Jewish people build a safe and secure community. No one wants to live in fear but you must live in reality and that is what he and his team are teaching how to keep places of worship safe inside the Jewish community. The man who did this horrific act said, “All Jews must die.” And this has been the cry of the enemy since God chose Abraham and his descendants to bless the world. Please do not forget to pray for the Jewish people all over the world today and let them know you support and love them by helping in their time of need.
If you would like to help Community Security Service or to learn more go to https://www.thecss.org/
You can read The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry’s executive director Jim Showers’ full statement on the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting here: https://www.foi.org/tree-of-life-synagogue-tragedy/
Chris Katulka: Six million Jewish people died systematically under the hand of Hitler only 70 years ago. And yet, today we are still seeing anti-Semitism on the rise. People ask, "How is this possible? How are we here right now, that we're still dealing with this issue?" I always come back to this. This is a spiritual issue.
Steve Conover: This is the Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover. In light of the recent act of anti-Semitism at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, security is on the mind of Jewish people all around the United States. Today Zak Meiri, Deputy Director of the Community Security Service will join Chris Katulka. They are discussing what the CSS does to protect the Jewish people and what you can do to help. Let's join Chris now.
Chris Katulka: On October 27th, I'm sure all of our listeners know what happened. Just a few weeks ago, a needless tragic loss of life happened when a gunman went into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood and opened fire on a group of worshipers who were celebrating Sabbath and who were actually doing a baby naming ceremony at that time as well. It was all over the news, it's global news, because of what happened. 11 people died. I want to read a statement from our executive director, Dr. Jim Showers. I want you to hear what he had to say here:
“Once again the Jewish community is the victim of one of the most ancient hatreds known to mankind, anti-Semitism. A gunman took advantage of the freedoms afforded to Americans and walked into a synagogue uncontested, where he attacked Sabbath worshipers. This was pure evil.” He continues, “declaring all Jews must die.” That's what this gunman said. “He declares ‘all Jews must die.’” He revealed a heart that stands opposed to God's heart. Through the prophet Isaiah, God said, "Woe to those call evil good."”
Now, listen, since our founding 80 years ago, the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry has been proud to identify as Christians who love the Jewish people. We are privileged to stand in solidarity with them, and we mourn with the Jewish community and strongly condemn the attack in Pittsburgh. We abhor and oppose anti-Semitism in any form whether verbal or physical. It is wrong and we pray the peace of God to comfort all of those who are hurting, and we ask for His blessing upon His chosen peoples.
For my listeners, I really want you to understand the Friends of Israel was founded, we were born out of the persecution of the Jewish people. We were founded in 1938, and as a group of Christian businessmen and women who come together in Philadelphia to raise funds, to help the Jewish people who were suffering during the Holocaust. It is embedded in our DNA, that we help and we support and raise awareness about anti-Semitism, the hatred of Jewish people.
Now, as of course, I'm sure all of you were going through the news, I found a Washington Post article that said this, "The Tree of Life Synagogue has practiced active shooter drills. Staff members knew the protocols. They assessed the building security just last year. On high holy days, police officers would keep watch outside the synagogue. Like many synagogues across the country, Tree of Life had its doors open for Saturday's Shabbat services."
Now, listen, anytime I go to a synagogue, I am always welcomed by security. Security is a major issue in the Jewish community. That's why I can think of nobody better than to bring Zak Meiri, the Deputy Director of the Community Security Service, to our program. Zak, great to have you, my friend.
Zak Meiri: Thank you very much for having me, Chris.
Chris Katulka: Zak, can you share with our listeners, this is really important. We're talking about what happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue. We're talking about anti-Semitism, the fact that anti-Semitism sadly is still alive, it's still well 70 years after the holocaust. You think we would have learned by now. But sadly, even in America, we still have Jewish people, who go to worship in America, in the freest country on earth. They go to worship and they face anti-Semitism, persecution. Can you share about what the Community Services do that you work with?
Zak Meiri: Sure. Absolutely. Essentially we're trying to create a culture of security awareness within our community. It's disappointing that we have to operate on such a level where we're constantly speaking about security. That's just the unfortunate reality. I tell people that I'm two things: One, I'm a lover of reality and I'm a student of history. I see what's going on around the world, and that's our reality. We have to come to terms with it. And I see what has happened throughout history to Jews and we have to come to terms with that. So as an organization, we try to have the discussion with communities in a way that doesn't instill fear, but we do it out of a love for our communities, a love for our way of life. So we enable communities to create a sustainable infrastructure that will allow them to secure their institutions and essentially secure their way of life. So we train members on certain things from counter surveillance to perimeter control, to access control, to identifying suspicious behavior, and in turn they get to be the liaison between their communities and the police. We work hand in hand with the police. Cooperating with law enforcement is very, very important to us. And we're trying to empower the individual to take an active role in securing their communities.
Chris Katulka: Zak, when I go to a synagogue event, usually it's an event. It's not Sabbath, which is a regular time of worship for the Jewish people. This is usually an event where a lot from the Jewish community come out maybe to hear from a guest speaker on Israel, the Jewish people, or something of that nature. The security is usually pretty well staffed. We're talking police officers from the town, security in the synagogue. But you know, for a regular Sabbath service, I'm sure smaller synagogues can't afford to have a security service like the larger ones can. Is that an issue in the Jewish community, especially as we're seeing what's happening in Squirrel Hill and Pittsburgh?
Zak Meiri: Absolutely. Unfortunately the synagogues are taxed very expensive. They raise money from congregants as you understand, so security has never been a top priority, so there hasn't been money allocated to such needs. To make that shift is one thing; to actually make it something tangible that you can adjust is something else. The cost certainly has a weight on communities, and to get a tax because of our operations have saved tens and millions of dollars throughout the country because we're able to create that infrastructure without having to be an excessive cost on the synagogues. That is part of the reason we were established, is to help mitigate those costs.
Chris Katulka: Now tell me, I love what you said. You're a realist, but you also understand history. You look back, you're not scared of what's happened in the past, and that's usually the problem, is history has an ability to repeat itself. And like I said earlier, you would think by now we would have learned from the holocaust. We would have learned just 70 years earlier what could happen, especially in Jewish communities. And here we are again, faced with an issue where we have someone committing the most atrocious acts of anti-Semitism, literally going into a synagogue during worship and gunning down the most innocent people. Can you tell me, when you look at history, how do you profile that? How do you go back and say, "Okay, this is history. We have to be ready. We have to be prepared." Can you unpack that a little more when you talked about the type of personality that you have?
Zak Meiri: Sure. I think an issue that we have specifically with the Jewish community, larger discussions that we had collectively where we are as a society, but I think we see ourselves as detached from history. I think we compartmentalize there was history and then there was now, rather than see ourselves as a link to all the previous generations. With that is a link to the actual history. History has never changed. We're not past history. We're just the next essentially incarnation of reality. History is a collection of realities. So nothing's changed. There hasn't been ebbs and flows of antisemitism, but it's always lurked there and it has been manifested in different ways and different locations. You see this kind of thing going on all the time in Europe. You see this going on all the time in Israel and in South America. All over the world. So we managed to be very myopic, unfortunately, in how we perceive history and the threats. So we need to see ourselves as just an extension of what was before and what will come, and an extension of all other areas throughout the world, because we are living in the same reality. We just need to understand that.
Chris Katulka: Do you feel as though it seems to be that from out of the east, we have anti-Semitism. It's moving across Europe. It's now coming ... it's now rearing its ugly head in America more than ever before statistically. Does the community security service have any outlets in Europe with the rise of anti-Semitism that's happening there?
Zak Meiri: We're a completely American organization, based in the US, and we see what's going on in Europe. We of course have intelligence reports because that's an international community. The information is shared and must continue to be shared. But we don't have relations with them, but there are other groups that operate similarly to CSS and it's been a long history of communities doing this and it's been absolutely essential. So we do what we gain, unfortunately, from the realities over there and we learn from them. We don't have actual outlets over there.
Chris Katulka: My friends, we are talking to Zak Meiri who is the Deputy Director of the Community Security Service, an organization that goes into synagogues, into Jewish communities, and educates, teaches, prepares people for moments like this for the Tree of Life Synagogue. Security is needed now more than ever with the rise of anti-Semitism and the work that they're doing is absolutely amazing. So here's what we're going to do. We're going to take a quick break, and then we're going to come back. I want to ask Zak one quick question. I want to ask him a question that pertains to his work in the Jewish community. But then I want him to share with you how you can get involved with the Community Security Service. Stick around.
At the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, we emphasize the need for solid biblical teaching and accurate analysis on the news of the day. One of the best resources for great biblical teaching that I know is our bimonthly magazine, Israel My Glory. Israel My Glory has been around since 1942 and is trusted by well over 150,000 subscribers. Hi, friends, I'm Chris Katulka. Years ago when I lived in Dallas I met a woman who loved Israel My Glory because it was a valuable resource for her to teach her Sunday school class. She loved Israel My Glory so much that she found all the issues together and archived decades of our magazine.
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Welcome back everybody. We're talking with Zak Meiri, the Deputy Director of the Community Security Service. Zak, thank you so much for being with us. Let me ask you this. In light of what happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, how busy are you right now? Are you more busy than you've ever been before?
Zak Meiri: Absolutely. We're getting calls and emails by the scores. It's an unfortunate thing, but if there's any positive to come from this situation, that people are now starting to have that discussion of security and wanting to take concrete action to protect their communities, which is great. Not great for us, but great because it's a conversation we've wanted to have since our inception about 11 years ago, and we've loathed the day that something like this would happen and we've said that something like this might be unfortunately necessary for people to wake up and understand. So that's what's happening. They're just awakening and people are saying, "Okay, let's talk about this. What do we need to do?" So in turn we are extraordinarily busy right now.
Chris Katulka: Zak, tell me. This event happened in Pittsburgh, but tell me what's going through the minds of the Jewish community all around the country right now. What are they thinking?
Zak Meiri: They're thinking their city could have been Pittsburgh. It could be Denver. It could be New York. No one knows. No one knows what's in a way lurking behind the bushes. So everyone understands that it just happened to be Pittsburgh and it could just happen to be their city, wherever they live in. So they understand that as a community we're very vulnerable, and as an individual community, relative to their synagogue or their neighborhood, they also understand their vulnerability. So everyone's a little, I would say, more than just a little on edge right now.
Chris Katulka: I would agree with you. I was just talking to my friend and we were discussing of all places, Pittsburgh. If someone happened that this happened in LA or New York City, maybe they would think differently about it. But Pittsburgh is not the type of place where you would expect such a radical act of anti-Semitism to take place, and I think you're exactly right. I think when you think about it happening in Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh to me is every city in some way. So it really levels the playing field, that this isn't just something for New York. This isn't something for LA. This is something for every single city out there, because we know statistically anti-Semitism is on the rise. And Zak, that's the reason we need Community Security Service. Zak, can you share with our listeners. This is a Christian audience. These are people who love Israel. They love the Jewish people. They stand against anti-Semitism. They stand in solidarity with the Jewish people. Can you share with them ways that they can get involved with the Community Security Service?
Zak Meiri: Sure. Our primary concern right now is unfortunately fundraising. We've maxed out our bandwidth. We have a limited staff. It's 98% volunteer organization. People are giving over their time. And to field all of the calls and to meet all of the extension demands and to get new equipment and to use ... we're very limited funding. So any contributions would be very well appreciated. In short of that, getting the word out about CSS to communities where they might have smaller Jewish populations or if their relations with an area where we don't have a presence. Our ambition is to be in every Jewish community, large or small. We want to be operational there. We want to at least conduct trainings there, if not set up volunteer teams. So really it's about helping show up the limited resources that we have and also to enable extension.
Chris Katulka: Can you share how our people can donate? Can they do it online? Can they call? How should they do that?
Zak Meiri: Absolutely. You can go right online. We have a special page put up and posted because of the incident. It's thecss.org and it's very simple. You can contact us or you can make a contribution. We've basically done away with all of the other information on the website. You can access it later on, but right now the most important thing is to help this movement grow and help the word spread and help secure our communities around the country.
Chris Katulka: Folks, we're talking about the physical protection of the Jewish people while they worship right here in America. To think that we actually need security is just mind blowing to me. But this is the state of reality that we're in right now. anti-Semitism is on the rise. There is a need to train people for physically protecting Jewish people as they worship Sabbath or as they go to high holy days or whatever. So I want to encourage you, our listeners. You heard Zak. Go to thecss.org. Right there you can find out all the information on how you can give to help expand this work. Zak, I know you are busy and thank you for coming on on such short notice. We really appreciate it.
Zak Meiri: Thank you so much for having me, Chris. And I appreciate the opportunity to speak to everybody.
Chris Katulka: Thanks, Zak.
You know, I often get asked by people, why is there still anti-Semitism today? We were just talking about the fact that it's only been 70 years since Hitler made a plan to literally get rid of, to annihilate all of the Jewish people. And you know he actually accomplished a lot. He killed half of the Jewish population at that time. Six million Jewish people died systematically under the hand of Hitler only 70 years ago, and yet today we are still seeing anti-Semitism on the rise. People ask, "How is this possible? How are we here right now, that we're still dealing with this issue?" And I always come back to this. This is a spiritual issue. This isn't something that's just happening against a Jewish people because they are Jewish. It's deeper than that. This is a satanic act. This is a spiritual warfare against the Jewish people, because remember, God's not through with Israel. God's not through with the Jewish people. And I want to show you, because in Psalm 83 the psalmist gives us a perfect picture of the spiritual battle that's going on here. Remember, this psalm was written thousands of years ago, and listen to what it says. Psalm 83.
"Oh God, do not keep silent. Do not hold your peace or be still, oh God. For behold, your enemies make an uproar. Those who hate you have raised their heads. They lay crafty plans against your people." That's the Jewish people. Your people. "They consult together against your treasured ones. They say, 'Come, let us wipe them out as a nation. Let the name of Israel be remembered no more.' For they conspire with one accord. Against you they make a covenant." Against you, talking about God. This issue of anti-Semitism isn't a modern issue. Friends, this has been going on all throughout history, since God set the Jewish people apart to be his chosen people, to be the bearers of his message of the good news. The very fact that you have a Bible today. It's a Jewish book through and through. The nation of Israel today is a testimony of God's faithfulness because of those promises in the Bible. God's message of redemption through Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. It's all connected. God has a plan for Israel and the Jewish people, and Satan is doing all that he can to thwart that plan. It's been going on for millennia. Ever since God chose Israel, Satan's been against them.
Just think about it. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon. All of these empires that worked against the Jewish people, that persecuted the Jewish people. I'm thinking of the Persians. The story of Esther is all about one man, Haman, who couldn't stand the fact that Mordecai, a Jew, wouldn't bow down to him. So in his heart, he plotted to literally eliminate, wipe out all of the Jewish people. That's what the whole book of Esther is about. But again, God's faithfulness to preserve his people. The Greeks tried to wipe out the Jewish people. The Romans, the Spanish Inquisitions, the Crusader period, the Russian pogroms. And folks, we just mentioned Hitler. There is a long history of antisemitism, and folks, it goes back to one thing. It's a spiritual issue. It's a spiritual warfare. God is protecting his people, and yet at the same time, Satan is working to thwart God's plan. Why? Because God still has a purpose for Israel and a purpose for the Jewish people.
This is a spiritual issue. This isn't an ethnic issue. This doesn't come back just because they're Jewish and they hate them. This is a deeper issue. This person that murdered the 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue had a view that was against God. It wasn't just against the Jewish people; it was against God's plan. Did you hear what the psalmist said in Psalm 83? "It's against you that they do these things." There is a force at work in the world to eliminate the Jewish people. It's Satan. And so folks, let's keep praying together. Let's keep working together to stand up for our Jewish friends, to stand against antisemitism, the hatred of Jewish people, and to remember that we are, as Christians, uniquely connected to our Jewish friends through Jesus, the Jewish Messiah.
Steve Conover: Thank you for joining us for the program today. We appreciate Zak Meiri coming on, and you can find out more about the Community Security Service by going to thecss.org. Again, that's thecss.org. We want to take a moment to mention that the Friends of Israel Today is a listener supported program. Would you prayerfully consider becoming a monthly supporter of this ministry? You can find out more at foiradio.org. That's foiradio.org, or call and leave us a message on our listener line at 888-343-6940. Again, that's 88-343-6940. And someone will return your call during regular business hours.
Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione, co-written by Sarah Fern. Our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong. I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of the Friends of Israel gospel ministry. We're a worldwide Christian ministry communicating biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah while fostering solidarity with the Jewish people.
Digital Israel My Glory
At the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, we emphasize the need for solid biblical teaching and accurate analysis on the news of the day. One of the best resources for great biblical teaching is our bimonthly magazine, Israel My Glory.
Now you can get Israel My Glory on your smartphone, tablet, or computer. Wherever you are, you'll have access to the latest Israel My Glory as well as an archive of past issues that are easily searchable. Take a look at our digital IMG today!
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.
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