For years, the New York Police Department’s annual pre-High Holy Days security meeting had become little more than a big coffee klatch.
With crime down and bias crimes reduced, the gathering became better known as a chance for Jewish leaders from all walks of life and all parts of the city to renew acquaintances and trade stories with each other and police brass.
Since the drill was the same every year, discussion about security became routine.
Then came Sept. 11, 2001.
Which made this year’s meeting more serious than it has been for a long time.
"These meetings go way back," Chief of Department Joseph Esposito told several hundred Jewish leaders and police officials gathered Monday in the auditorium at One Police Plaza.
"Years ago we clearly had a need for them … to ensure a happy and safe holiday. But it became coffee klatches, more a meeting of friends than a meeting of purpose. Unfortunately things changed, the world changed, and it will never be the same again."
With those words, Esposito announced an "aggressive agenda" that included a 15-minute video presentation on counterterrorism.
Underscoring the seriousness was the attendance of Gov. George Pataki, who is running for re-election, and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, in his second tour of duty as the city’s top cop. Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not attend.
"We are in a heightened state of alert," said Pataki, flanked by his director of public security, John Scanlon. "There are those still out there who want to take away our freedom. We are going to do everything in our power to make sure there are no incidents this year."
Pataki noted there were no High Holy Days incidents last year, despite the "unspeakable horror" of 9-11.
With several major events needing a huge police presence at about the same time (notably the U.S. Open and a special session of Congress) Pataki said he would make the National Guard available to the city if necessary to bolster police coverage.
But Kelly said later he wouldn’t need the Guardsmen. He said extra cops will patrol synagogues during Rosh HaShanah, which begins at sundown Sept. 6, and Yom Kippur, which starts at sundown Sept. 15.
Manny Behar, executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council, expressed concern about the possible drain on police manpower because of all the events. Queens is hosting the U.S. Open, at the National Tennis Center in Flushing.
"I hope we have enough police presence," said Behar.
The crux of the meeting, coordinated with the help of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, was a video discussing terrorism and how citizens can help law enforcement in identifying potential incidents.
Police officials were given a "training guide" outlining the days and times of synagogue services and providing directives on how to deal with Jews and their observances.
"Sensitizing the attitudes of members of the [police] service including ranking officers to the religious aspects of the Holy Days is of PRIMARY IMPORTANCE," the manual stated. "The use of patience, understanding, and tact shall be utilized."
For example, the guide noted that the Orthodox and chasidim cannot ride in a vehicle on the Sabbath and holidays, so in case of minor violations of law, "every effort will be made to walk the defendant to the station house."
It also told captains that "every effort shall be made to have members of your command stop in and make a personal visit to Houses of Worship within your command."
The manual also gave brief explanations of the High Holy Days and Sukkot.
The Jewish Community Relations Council also distributed a security alert with a list of tips for synagogue leaders about security planning, crowd control and evacuation plans in case of an emergency.
"How secure is your High Holiday ticket?" the alert asked. "Could it be counterfeited?"
NYPD counterterrorism experts said they are dependent upon the public more than ever to report suspicious behavior. "The most important tool we have is knowledge and information," said Lt. John Rowland, who revealed that terrorists conduct rehearsals and dry runs.
Suspicious behavior, he said, should be reported to (800) NYC SAFE. Rowland stressed it was behavior, not appearance, that mattered.
Some of the meeting was a farewell to Lt. David Nadel, who is retiring after 18 years as the NYPD’s top liaison to the Jewish community.
Surrounded by tables of bagels and cream cheese, cookies and cake, Nadel received accolades and plaques from JCRC and the Williamsburg Safety Patrol.