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Sam Rosenberg: Soft targets, hard choices

| Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, 7:03 p.m.
Sam Rosenberg
Sam Rosenberg

In my career as a close-protection operator in the early 2000s , I had many interesting clients — from heads of state to film stars to CEOs of global companies .

One of the most interesting was T.J. Leyden — a man few would recognize on the street, even today, but who was then living (and continues to live now) with a target on his back.

Leyden was a leader of the Hammerskin Nation, the largest white supremacist transnational organization in America , a vile hate group to which he’d pledged his allegiance for some 15 years .

When I met him, he’d abandoned his former life of hate and worked as an educator for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in an effort to make up for his previous wrongdoings .

And he’d come to Pittsburgh with a warning.

“Anyone who is Jewish, black, Hispanic, Asian, homosexual, a government worker or a tolerant white is the sworn enemy of the Aryan Nations,” Leyden said, “who have vowed to annihilate the rest of society, one way or another.”

Leyden’s audience — sitting in an auditorium less than half a mile from the Tree of Life synagogue — listened politely and applauded.

And soon forgot.

In October, the vicious anti- Semitic hate of which Leyden warned came back to our city, literally with a vengeance. It found its target in the unique (and uniquely peaceful) Jewish community of Squirrel Hill, which has been a vital part of one of America’s most racially, ethically and religiously diverse cities, a city that has long prided itself on its tolerance and welcoming attitude toward strangers. Indeed, if America is a melting pot, Pittsburgh is its center.

But, it’s precisely this welcoming side of our city that makes Pittsburgh such an inviting target for those whose hearts know only hate, prejudice and division.

I focus on how to “harden the target” to make future attacks less likely and the unthinkable less deadly.

Some steps are purely common sense: critical incident and active- shooter training for our city’s most vulnerable populations and detailed analysis of synagogues and other public spaces to make them less inviting to attack and more defensible should an attack occur.

Other steps, however, will demand moral and political courage, a willingness to fight back and win against an enemy who — as Leyden well understands — is sworn to divide, destroy and murder.

Jewish communities are , by the very fact of their existence, inviting targets for those who would sow terror and fear. We must do everything in our power to make them less so — and the best way to achieve that is through a prepared citizenry.

Not every person is willing or able to handle a firearm competently, nor should we expect them to.

That said, there are those in every community who are willing to step up — and we should do all we can to prepare and train them should the need arise.

Obviously, an armed citizen, properly trained, will have a better chance of stopping a determined armed attacker, but unarmed defensive tactics can be remarkably effective and can be mastered by nearly anyone , regardless of age or physical ability . Most important, they help to cultivate both the mindset and the situational awareness necessary in a life-and-death circumstance.

The Torah states that we not only have a right, but an obligation to self-defense, and the defense of each other — “you shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:16, rodef — the law of the pursuer).

This is not an easy teaching to understand and accept in our hearts. But it’s one we must not only digest but also be prepared, should the need arise, to act on.

Soft targets demand hard choices. And our enemies aren’t going away.

Sam Rosenberg, a Squirrel Hill native, is the author of “The Traveler’s Guide to Personal Security” and founder of INPAX Academy of Personal Protection in McCandless.

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