By Deborah Brown
Maryland Hillel posted signs on Thursday announcing that students would be required to swipe in with their university IDs to enter the Rosenbloom Hillel Center beginning Monday, April 8.
This security update goes into effect exactly two months after the center was confronted with a potentially unsafe incident that involved police being called to remove a man.
On Thursday, Feb. 7, a handful of students were working in the front lobby when Hillel staff told them to move to the cafeteria in the back citing a “police emergency.” Police officers came into the building and woke up a man who had been sleeping on one of the couches. They handcuffed him and took him outside, said Ayala Stone, a freshman math major who witnessed the event.
“It was afternoon, and I was doing work here…We saw three police officers come in and walk over to the couch where he was sleeping. One woke him up…and he was handcuffed and they took him out,” she said.
According to many students who asked to remain anonymous, the man had been seen around Hillel for the first two weeks of the semester. He was always wearing a hoodie and ski cap, a Towson shirt and a backpack, they said.
Stone said she had met him in Hillel on the first day of classes when he introduced himself as Joshua Black, a psychology major who had transferred from Towson University. Other students said that Black claimed he was staying with his brother in Washington D.C. and commuting to school.
However, he seemed to be at Hillel from the early morning until late at night, according to students, and nobody claimed to see him in classes. In addition, students said he was always watching them but would never talk to anyone.
Stone said, “I’m not sure exactly what it was—he would always look around Hillel, you know, like seeing what’s happening. He never really looked like he belonged, but a lot of people said he was just socially awkward, we should give him a chance as a person. But at a certain point I decided ‘this guy is creepy, I’m just going to stay away from him,’ so I stopped talking to him. I just had weird vibes from him.”
The University of Maryland Police Department, who made the arrest, issued the following statement:
“On February 7, 2019, at approximately 3:58 p.m., UMPD responded to Hillel for a warrant summons/service. Staff at Hillel told police that there was a man sleeping on a sofa inside the building. The officers woke the male up. The male was told he had an open warrant from Montgomery County, Maryland. The male was taken to Montgomery County Detention Center at Seven Locks for processing. Case is closed.”
Weeks after the incident, Hillel staff had another security camera installed just inside the front doors.
Shortly after that, Hillel added a card reader, which students noticed, but had until now been inactive. As early as March, a contractor was seen outside the center testing the card reader.
Once activated, the card swipe will only allow students and Hillel staff to access the building. People who are not students, including visitors and others who are invited to lead activities or give speeches, will not be able to access the building unless someone lets them in.
Allison Buchman, the associate director/director of operations at Maryland Hillel, said these installations were not related to the February incident, but had been planned for a long time. She added that RHC has always been a very welcoming place where Jewish students of all backgrounds have felt at home, and it’s time to make sure that they feel safe there as well.
In the past year, there have been several security threats to Jewish institutions. Perhaps the most memorable was the shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue, but there were also swastikas spray-painted onto buildings on college campuses across America and other acts of vandalism committed around the world.
In response to these anti-Semitic threats, synagogues and Jewish institutions across America are updating their security. This takes various forms, depending on the institution’s mission, location and surrounding Jewish community, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Maryland Hillel is one of the countless Jewish organizations updating its security procedures. In the weeks after spring break, students may have noticed the new card swipe machine installed at Hillel’s front door. Starting today, the machine is now in use.
Stone said she is “very glad” that Hillel has been updating their security system. She is hopeful that these new updates will keep the Hillel community safe at least until the new building is built.