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Emanu El Newsroom

Committed to Communication

Welcome to the Emanu El Houston Newsroom.

Here you will find regular, non-critical updates on subjects like security enhancements, safety training, the Ezra Law case, and new developments with our leadership team, along with copies of important messages shared through other channels.

As part of our ongoing efforts, we have also launched the info@emanuelhouston.org email address. This email is meant to connect anyone seeking information about the items mentioned above, or related subjects, with the right people quickly and easily.

We know how important it is to keep our community informed, and remain committed to doing all we can to ensure communications are timely, findable, and relevant to your needs.

Interim Leadership Team

We are pleased to announce our new interim leadership team consisting of fredi Bleeker Franks (Interim Operations Manager), Shel Vedlitz (Interim Security and Facilities Manager) and Philip Tenenbaum (Interim Finance Manager).

We are thankful to this talented team for stepping into essential roles at Emanu El as we work to locate qualified and experienced candidates to fill these needs on a more permanent basis. To that end, we will be working with a professional search firm to locate the right person to fill the Executive Director role as quickly as possible.

You can learn about the interim leadership team and why they are well suited for these roles by viewing their bios.

fredi Bleeker Franks
Interim Operations Manager

fredi has been a member of Congregation Emanu El for more than 30 years, serving in many capacities, including as Sisterhood and PTA president, Mitzvah Day Chair, Treasurer, and currently as VP, Education. She is active in the community as well; she serves as a docent and is on several committees at the Holocaust Museum Houston. Before retiring, fredi was employed by the UTHealth Science Center, Houston, where she began in the human resources office and managed the Medical School human resources office. For more than 25 years fredi served as the Chief Business Officer for the Department of Ophthalmology, responsible for grants and contracts, budgeting, and human resources for the department. fredi served on the board and executive committee of the Women of Reform Judaism, and still travels to sisterhoods by request to work with them on leadership development, strategic planning, and conflict resolution. She is a member of the Union for Reform Judaism board, serving on several committees including Board Engagement and the Committee on Endowments, Trust Funds, and Investments. As one of URJ’s mentors in the benchmarking project, she works with congregations reviewing data and assisting with strategic priorities. As a member of the Emanu El Executive Committee, fredi has worked with many of our current staff members and has developed an excellent working relationship with them. In her interim role, fredi will be running day-to-day operations and management for the temple, Helfman and Becker.

Philip Tenenbaum
Interim Finance Manager

Philip has been a member of Congregation Emanu El since 1995. He is Emanu El’s current Treasurer and has been an active member for many years. Philip has participated as a Board member since 2018, and is a member of the Budget & Finance, Investment and Personnel Committees. Philip retired at the end of 2020 after 40 years of human resource consulting at Mercer, where his focus was the strategic alignment of business and human capital strategy. Philip is a pension actuary by background, relying heavily on finance, accounting, and statistics in his work. As Treasurer, Philip has detailed knowledge of the temple’s finances and budget, making him well suited for his interim role. He also has a great deal of experience working with non-profit organizations and serves on the Boards of Jewish Family Service, Holocaust Museum Houston, and Ronald McDonald House of Houston.

Shel Vedlitz
Interim Security and Facilities Manager

Shel has been a member of Congregation Emanu El for 26 years and has a strong working relationship with temple staff because of his deep involvement in our Emanu El community. As an active volunteer, Shel has served on many temple committees, most recently the Building and Grounds, Security, and Cemetery Committees. He has a strong security background with both the U.S. military and Conoco. Shel also has a background in construction and maintenance supervising Conoco’s downstream Engineering and Construction department that was responsible for Conoco’s convenience store chain of gasoline stations. Involved with temple security since 2006, Shel has played a role in every risk assessment and has evaluated the need for, drafted, and executed every Homeland Security Grant submitted on behalf of Emanu El. Shel has also overseen installation of the temple fences, gates, walls, cameras and access control systems.

Security

Our top priority is the safety and wellbeing of our community, and we are committed to employing every tool at our disposal to protect the safety of our campus.

Update 10/11/2023

Update 10/11/2023

We are aware of propaganda circulating on social media that calls for the targeting of the Jewish community with violence on Friday, October 13, 2023. This form of emotional terrorism is meant to deter us from our daily routines, activities and adversely affect emotional stability.  Our partners with regard to security, the Secure Community Network (SCN) are hosting a webinar about this purported threat tomorrow afternoon, which we will attend.

Please know that we will keep you informed in the event of a credible threat.

Security Update 3/27/2023

Security Update 3/27/2023

We have learned that Tyse Hem, the individual described in our March 22, 2023 Security Update, appeared in court today where it was ordered that he wear a GPS monitor and remain at least 1,000 feet from any Jewish institution. Hem is also not allowed to possess any weapons, he cannot use alcohol or drugs, and he has been ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation.

Please report any sighting of Hem on or near Jewish campuses, houses of worship, or other institutions to law enforcement immediately. As always, the safety and security of our congregants, teachers and staff remains at the forefront of our minds. Our dedicated security team has been briefed, and all security protocols remain in place.

Security Update 3/24/2023

Security Update – 3/24/2023

Earlier today a person came to the West Gate and requested entry. Members of our security team spoke with him and determined that he had no valid reason to be at the synagogue. Our security guards had no prior knowledge of this individual, but after intercepting and interviewing him, they refused to allow him onto the property and alerted our Interim Security and Facilities Manager.

Incidents such as this one happen infrequently, and when they do, our security team is well-equipped to handle them.

In the coming months, we hope to decrease the number of standalone emails you receive from Congregation Emanu El. We will notify you of any security breaches, but do not plan to send frequent emails about incidents such as the one described above, in which our security protocols functioned successfully, and our building remained safe and secure. As a reminder, we have added the Emanu El Newsroom to our website, where we will post timely updates. Additionally, you may wish to subscribe to receive email alerts from the Secure Community Network here. Finally, if you would like to know more about the Houston Jewish Community Security Program, click here. We know that you join us in our gratitude to the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston for making these resources available to our congregational family.

As always, the safety and security of our congregants, teachers and staff remains at the forefront of our minds. We are grateful to our well-trained security guards, who consider our safety their top priority and who are dedicated to their work.

As this week comes to a close, we are sending our warmest wishes for a Shabbat shalom – a sabbath of peace – to you and all those you love.

Security Update 3/22/2023

Security Update 3/22/2023

Yesterday afternoon, The Secure Community Network (SCN) issued an alert stating that an individual named Tyse Hem was arrested for criminal trespass at Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism on March 19, 2023, following several attempts to enter the synagogue after being asked to leave. Hem is known to have approached multiple Houston-area synagogues, including Chabad of the Woodlands, Chabad of Uptown, Congregation Beth Israel, Temple Sinai, and JCC Houston. The SCN also shared a “Be-on-the-Lookout” (BOLO) alert featuring identifying information and photos for Hem, which we are attaching here.

After a review of our security reports, we can confirm that Hem visited Congregation Emanu El last fall, and was identified by and dealt with appropriately by our security personnel. SCN and Al Tribble were also made aware. Though we regret any stress or concern this notification creates, we feel it is important to remain transparent about any security concerns that may impact our Emanu El community.

As always, one of the most powerful security tools available is a vigilant community. In keeping with our desire to foster a culture of security and safety at Emanu El, please review the attached BOLO alert from SCN, and if you do spot anything concerning always contact law enforcement immediately. Your safety remains our top priority. We have posted images of this individual at every security post, reception desk, the school entry, north lobby and rotunda entrances, and all enhanced security protocols remain in place. We will remain in contact with both local law enforcement and the SCN, and will share any additional updates as they come in.

Heightened Awareness Alert – Possible Antisemitic Action 2/25/2023

To our Emanu El community,

We have learned that national antisemitic groups plan to hold a “Day of Hate” tomorrow, Saturday, February 25, 2023. Though in the past this has not been a widespread event, we are posting notice here out of an abundance of caution and to help keep our community informed and aware. We are not aware of any specific threats having been identified in our area or against Emanu El, however if you do spot anything concerning, please contact law enforcement immediately.

We understand the continued pressure of antisemitic sentiment can create stress, fear, and worry, but these trying times have also shown that we stand strong together. We welcome you to reach out to learn more about support services both mental and spiritual, what we’re doing to keep our campus secure, and how you can get involved with safety-related activities like our upcoming Situational Awareness Training course.

Security Update - 2/16/2023

Full Security Update – 2/16/2023

Here we would like to share with you a full update on the security measures which have been implemented during the past weeks. Please understand that because security is fluid and protocols are dynamic, security measures may change based on continuing assessments and needs.

I. Reducing access points onto the Emanu El campus through our gates and doors

  • Entrance to our campus will be limited to the East gate, with exception of vendors/deliveries who will be permitted to use the West gate. The West gate will continue to remain available for cars and pedestrians to exit our campus.
  • Building door access will be limited to the school entrance, the north lobby, and the rotunda doors.

II. Employing a Two-Step Verification process to ensure that no visitor may enter our building without a valid reason

  • Step 1: Perimeter verification – no visitor may pass through either the East or West gates without appropriate validation (guard approval, lanyard/ID, or access actively granted by security/reception desk).
  • Step 2: Building entrance verification – no visitor may enter the building without the appropriate validation (as above).
  • All 3 entry points to have armed security guards stationed there at all times.

III. Other Action Steps Already Implemented

  • Hired additional armed security guards to supplement our current security 24/7.
  • Reinforced our current protocols with security personnel, receptionists, and all staff.
  • Reminded and re-trained all staff about our access / door protocols.
  • All visitors to our campus, excluding congregants and anyone issued a valid ID badge (e.g., non-congregant Becker parents and/or caregivers), must receive a badge from receptionists/guards, other than for worship services and large events.
    • Visitor validation occurs at the East Gate by security who will provide a temporary sticker. Visitors are then met by a guard at one of the 3 approved entrances where they must sign in and receive a temporary badge.
    • Coming soon, all visitors to be verified via Hall Pass and all congregants to be issued ID cards with Lanyards to facilitate campus access.
  • Limit all vendor/delivery access (UPS, Amazon, caterers, etc.) to rotunda entrance. All delivery personnel must buzz into the rotunda, not the delivery door and be verified via the badging system. 
  • Verify all passenger drop-offs (e.g., taxi, Uber/Lyft) by security before passengers may enter the East gate.
  • Retained extra security for all large events.
  • Ensure all members have a CEE sticker for their car windshield. See instructions below on how to get them for your vehicles. 
  • We are continuing to evaluate our security needs and may make changes accordingly.

How will these adjustments affect you and other cherished members of our Emanu El community?

Effective immediately, all members and staff must have a CEE sticker for their car windshield. If you do not have one, please email Sue Lewis at SueL@emanuelhouston.org to arrange to pick one up or have one mailed to you.

Effective immediately, all congregational staff and visitors will enter the campus only through the East gate. No one will be admitted through the gate without the appropriate validation and guard approval (CEE sticker, lanyard/ID, or access actively granted by security/reception desk).

  • A guard will be posted full-time at our entry gate.
  • Each car will be physically stopped and engaged.
  • If a congregant with CEE sticker or a Becker car tag is recognized by the guard, they do not have to be stopped before proceeding onto campus.
  • All others must be on an approved visitor list (provided by the school or Emanu El Staff) and issued a temporary visitor badge.

Effective immediately, the West Gate will be closed to all visitors except for vendors, contractors, and deliveries. Their access will continue to be monitored as it is today.

  • A guard will be posted during high-traffic times and the gate is being monitored by camera full time.
  • The West Parking lot will be closed to all visitors.
  • A sign will be installed directing all visitors to “Use the East Gate Entrance.”
  • All vendors, contractors, and delivery people must be Hall Pass verified and issued a badge before entering our building, and their movements will be limited to permitted spaces and monitored accordingly.

Effective immediately, the following protocols will be implemented regarding door access (entrance to our building).

I. South Lobby/Sunset Doors will be locked indefinitely to restrict all access.

II. School Entrance and School secured area:

  • Full-time guard has been placed in the school
  • One carpool line
  • Only garage drop-off / pick-up for Becker

III. North Entrance:

  • All visitors to be verified and met by the full-time security guard before entering the building
  • Helfman drop off / pickup to be limited to the North Entrance circle unless parents park in the garage and walk their children in through the North Entrance

IV. All other entrances will be locked and not used for access.

V. Rice Students will no longer be able to cut through our campus to get to/from the graduate apartments.

Ezra Law Case Updates

Update- 6/7/2023

At a pre-trial hearing on June 6, the court ordered Ms. Law not to have contact with Congregation Emanu El or our members. Among other provisions of the order, Law was required to submit to GPS monitoring and was ordered to remain at her home except for approved travel, such as legal or medical appointments and for work at specified locations. For most travel, she must be accompanied by her mother. According to the order, Law must submit a weekly log of where she goes when she leaves the house.  She was additionally ordered not to use or possess controlled substances, alcohol, or firearms.

Congregation Emanu El remains committed to the safety and security of our members, staff, teachers, and students.  Our security protocols remain in place.

A Message from your Congregation- 6/5/2023

To our Congregation Emanu El and Becker School Families,

We learned today that Ezra Law has been released into the custody of her family. As always, the safety and security of our congregants, teachers and staff remains at the forefront of our minds. Our dedicated security team has been briefed, and all security protocols remain in place.

We are committed to doing all we can to protect our community and will continue to share updates on the Emanu El newsroom whenever new information becomes available. If you have questions or concerns, please feel welcome to reach out directly at info@emanuelhouston.org.

Stuart Gaylor, President
fredi Bleeker Franks, Interim Operations Director
Erika Roberts, Becker Interim Principal

Ezra Law Case Update - Arraignment Hearing 4/19/2023

Ezra Law Case Update – Arraignment Hearing 4/19/2023

We remain committed to sharing updates about the ongoing criminal case of Ezra Law. In the latest development, the case has been reassigned to the 180th Criminal District Court of Harris County, and an arraignment hearing has been set for April 19, 2023, at 9:00 a.m.

The safety of our community continues to be our top priority and we assure you that all enhanced security protocols remain in place.

Ezra Law Case Update — Ezra Law Moved to New Secure Facility 3/21/2023

Ezra Law Case Update — Ezra Law Moved to New Secure Facility 3/21/2023

We have learned today that Ezra Law has been moved to a secure inpatient mental health facility. Per court order, there is no option for Law to bond out of the mental health facility, and she will remain under the authority of the Houston Sheriff’s Office while receiving care.

Though we do not believe there is cause for concern, we are sharing this message directly out of an abundance of caution and in keeping with our promise to update the community regarding new developments.

Community safety remains our top priority. All relevant security personnel have been informed, and all enhanced security protocols remain in place.

Ezra Law Case Update – Law Transitioning to Secure Inpatient Mental Health Facility 3/3/2023

Ezra Law Case Update – Law Transitioning to Secure Inpatient Mental Health Facility 3/3/2023

We have been informed that Ezra Law will be moved to a secure inpatient county mental health facility. She is currently being held without bond until the transfer. At this time there is no option for Law to bond out of the mental health facility, and she will remain under the authority of the Houston Sheriff’s Office while receiving care.

The safety of our community remains our top priority. All enhanced security protocols remain in place, and we will continue to share updates whenever new information becomes available.

Counseling Services Available

The mental and spiritual well-being of our community is tremendously important, and we want to remind everyone that our own clergy’s pastoral counseling resources have been made available in addition to the trauma-informed counseling professionals at Jewish Family Services. If you feel you may need these services or want more information you can reach JFS Behavioral Services at (713) 986-7825 or adultcounseling@jfshouston.org. You can also use this link to request services.