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Synagogues Shouldn’t be Fortresses


John Stonestreet

Kasey Leander

Winston Churchill famously said that “we shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”  

A recent example is Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. After the deadly 2018 shooting, synagogue leaders consulted security expert Juliette Kayyem on how to prevent the same thing from ever happening again.   

“In security, we view vulnerabilities as inherently bad,” she explained. “We solve the problem with layered defenses: more locks, more surveillance. Deprive strangers of access to your temple (and) have congregants carry ID.”  

Her basic suggestions were good. But to Kayyem’s surprise, when it came to keeping strangers out of the synagogue, “they would have none of it.” 

Inviting in outsiders, the leaders explained, was central to the building’s purpose. The Jewish concept of tikkun olam means the “repair of the world.” Changing the building to prevent what would be antithetical to its design. 

Churches should also welcome outsiders, but according to Paul, it’s primary task is to gather Christians for worship in order for them to be sent out. It’s supposed to be a “go and tell” model, not a “come and see” model. Something to ponder…


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