As executive director of Temple Israel, Bryan Bierman is responsible for many things: human resources, building management, the cemetery.
But he’s also in charge of something colleagues at Christian churches never worry about: security.
With threats to synagogues increasing across the nation — particularly after Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel — the Westport resident is in constant contact with Westport and State Police, and other law enforcement agencies.
Bierman is impressed with all of them, and values their close working relationships. But a recent experience with the FBI has opened his eyes to the behind-the-scenes work of keeping Temple Israel — and our town, state and nation — safe.
Now, he’s more impressed than ever.
Bryan Bierman, at FBI headquarters. (Photo courtesy of Frank Rosen)
Earlier this year, congregant Frank Rosen told Bierman about the FBI Citizens Academy. The 8-week program gives business, community and religious leaders an inside look at the federal law enforcement organization.
Throughout the spring, Bierman attended classes at the New Haven field office. He was surprised to learn about programs like the FBI’s statewide task force on gang violence, and the daily work the public never hears about but that keep Connecticut safe.
He made valuable partnerships with divisions like the Bomb Squad. Bierman invited members to Temple Israel. They toured the building, just in case they ever need to be there.
At the Citizens Academy, Bierman learned of an even more elite program. Held at FBI headquarters in Washington, and their training center near Quantico, Virginia, it offers an inside, in-depth look at both the agency, and its agents.
He applied, accepted, and last month joined a group of 26 Citizens Academy graduates from both Connecticut and New Orleans at the facility.
FBI Citizens Academy. Bryan Bierman is in the back, 2nd from left.
“It’s hard to put the experience into words,” Bierman says.
They heard from the number two agent in charge of negotiations with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, after the Boston Marathon bombing. He described the intense experience, including the intense gun battle.
The next day, the group saw the actual boat Tsarnaev had hidden in.
The boat in which Boston Marathon Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured by the FBI. (Photo courtesy of Frank Rosen)
Learning what the FBI thought and did during those difficult days was important, Bierman says.
The group also toured Hogan’s Alley — the “mock town” with banks, bars, stores, hotels, movie theaters and more, that agents and hostage rescue teams use to prepare for a variety of scenarios.
They learned that a trainee once did not notice a fake door, and was “shot.”
Later, during an actual investigation, he found an actual fake door — a direct result of his training.
In addition, the group viewed the real and digital models — used for future training, and in court — that woodworking and engineering experts make following investigations. One — showing the Capitol during the January 6 insurrection — has been used extensively by prosecutors.
Of particular interest to Bierman: the model used after the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.
“There’s a lot more to the FBI than kicking down doors,” Bierman notes. “So much goes on that people don’t know about.”
The visit to Quantico and Washington reinforced for Bierman the value of having “strong leadership to keep us safe.”
He will continue to work with the FBI — and other partners — to ensure the security of Temple Israel.
As for the Connecticut field office, he says, “It’s not massive. But everyone there loves the state. They look out for everyone. They’re keeping us safe from threats most of us don’t even know exist.”
And, he notes, “The FBI says Westport law enforcement is great to work. As a Westport resident, and for Temple Israel, that’s a win for everyone.”
(The New Haven FBI Citizens Academy is always looking for applicants. To learn more, or for questions, contact Bryan Bierman: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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