Facing protestors and threats, Golda Meir House seeks security enhancements

Before October 7, the Golda Meir House Museum and Education Center, a modest red brick duplex on the Auraria campus, was filled with life.

Classes for history and museum students from Community College of Denver, University of Colorado Denver, Metropolitan State University—the three schools housed on the Auraria Higher Education Center (AHEC)—met at the Golda Meir House. An art class painted a mural with the image of Golda, the first and only woman prime minister in Israel. Local and national tours came through the house. Jewish students came there for Jewish life programming and for Shabbat.

Today, the house sits silent and empty. In the room where a teenage Golda Meir first listened to debates about Zionism among her family and their friends, Executive Director Lena Fishman scrolls through social media to see when Golda’s House will again be targeted by protestors, as it has been every week since October.

“It used to be fun and exciting to be here, and now it feels like the life has been sucked out,” Fishman says. “If I see a group of students walking together, I get fearful. Most of the time, it’s just a campus tour, but every week, one of those groups is a protest.”

Fishman has every reason to feel fear. Protestors have written “TEAR THIS DOWN” on the façade of the house. After a protest, the front walkway to the museum is filled with antisemitic statements: “RACIST P.O.S. ZIONIST,” “ZIONISTS OFF OUR CAMPUS,” “GET THIS RACIST OFF OUR CAMPUS.”

"Tear This Down" written on Golda House

“‘Tear this down’”—those weren’t just words written on the ground,” Fishman says. “They vandalized the house. When I see, ‘Zionists off our campus,’ to me, that says I am not welcome on this campus because I identify as a Zionist.”

On a snowy March Monday morning, help for Lena Fishman and the Golda Meir House has arrived from JEWISHcolorado in the form of Secure Community Network (SCN) Regional Security Advisor Kevin Farrington. Farrington retired from a distinguished career with the FBI to join SCN. Today, he assesses the situation with few words.

“We think there is a strong case for security needs to be addressed at the Golda Meir House Museum,” Farrington says.

Assessing the risks

Farrington is at the museum to provide a Threat Vulnerability and Risk Assessment (TVRA). With support from JEWISHcolorado, SCN makes the TVRA available at no cost to any faith-based nonprofit in the state.

Kevin Farrington and Lena Fishman discuss security at the Golda House

His process is straightforward. He talks with Fishman about her experiences working in the building. They discuss fencing, cameras, window film that would be impact and bullet-resistant, door security, and the people who have access to the building.

Farrington and Fishman walk the perimeter of the building and through the museum. They talk as Farrington takes photos.

“I asked what vulnerabilities she sees and what we could do to make her feel safer,” Farrington says. “It never fails that when someone walks with me while I am taking photos, they come up with good recommendations.”

After his review of the museum, Farrington prepares a detailed written report assessing the site and providing multiple recommendations for ways to make the facility more secure, including day-to-day procedures that could be changed to influence security, equipment that could be necessary in an emergency, and software to enhance security.

Faith-based nonprofits can use the information in the report to apply for a federal grant of up to $150,000 through the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP). If an organization does not receive the federal grant, it would automatically be considered for a state grant of up to $50,000.

Kevin Farrington takes notes during his security assessment at the Golda Meir House Museum.

Even if a faith-based organization does not plan to apply for a grant but would simply like a review of its security measures, it is eligible for a TVRA through JEWISHcolorado.

Farrington points out that threats against the Jewish community are at a new level. He is pleased to see some of the 115 Jewish organizations in Colorado going through the security assessment process and bringing their ideas to the table.

“I am thinking about these 115 organizations every day,” he says. “For those who have not engaged with us, I would love to hear from them. You see a tangible impact from these assessments, and people are always thankful.”

Living under a cloud

After Farrington leaves, Fishman feels some weight has been lifted from her shoulders.

“To have Kevin here today, taking this situation seriously, this is really impactful,” she says. “JEWISHcolorado has been such a support to me through this entire time. Every time I reach out for help, I get an immediate response.”

But the security assessment that Farrington provides Fishman does not resolve all security issues at the museum. The museum is owned by AHEC, a state agency. It does not have nonprofit status, and, therefore, is not eligible for a NSGP.

Kevin Farrington assess security of Golda Meir House Museum

“It’s obvious from our assessment that there are improvements that could be made to the security of the Golda Meir House,” Farrington says. “This would be a tremendous opportunity for the community to step up and show their support for this historical treasure.”

Since October 7, Fishman has been living under a dark, threatening cloud, made more challenging by the complicated relationship the museum has with AHEC. After there was violence at a protest, AHEC shut down academic programming at the museum. AHEC sets the rules about protesting at the house, but the students who are protesting attend multiple schools on the campus, and AHEC cannot discipline the students.

Fishman has praise for the AHEC Police Department under the leadership of Chief Jason Mollendor.

“He has taken the security situation seriously and has reached out to me to see how I am doing,” Fishman says. “He even invited me to speak to the other police officers about the history of antisemitism, the Holocaust, and the events of October 7.”

AHEC still allows tours of the museum, but if it’s a large group, Fishman must schedule a police escort. Many tours have canceled because people are afraid to come to the campus.

When the Jewish National Fund (JNF) had its conference in Denver in December, a group of conference attendees started walking to the Golda Meir House for a scheduled tour. At the same time, protestors surrounded Golda’s House. AHEC Police Department intervened, picking up the tour group in squad cars, picking up Fishman from her parking spot in a squad car, driving all of them to St. Cajetan, the century-old landmark Catholic church next to the museum, where they entered through a secret side door.

Lena Fishman at Golda House Museum

Inside the church, Fishman gave her normal presentation about Golda Meir’s life until protestors outside departed, and the group could again enter the museum.

“With the AHEC Police Department, I have confidence that my physical safety is not in danger,” Fishman says. “But my emotional safety is rattled. I think Jewish students on the campus understand how I feel. I’m not sure anyone else on campus does.”

And what would Golda Meir think of what is happening to the Denver house where, she wrote, “…my real education began.”

“No one was better than Golda at making the case for why Israel has to exist,” Fishman says. “She would be on campus, speaking to groups, trying to make people understand that these protests are not helping Palestinians. She would not have closed down programming at the museum. She would be educating everywhere she could.”