Pittsburgh’s Jewish institutions commit to ensuring safety for all

Pittsburgh’s Jewish institutions commit to ensuring safety for all

Bomb threats and cemetery desecrations throughout the country have elevated local security concerns. In furthering protection, Pittsburgh’s Jewish institutions have developed plans and dedicated response efforts. Without revealing particular details or protocols, local institutions expressed their commitment to remaining apprised of innovative security measures as well as working with regional and national authorities.  

“I hope you understand that an organization never shares all the measures it takes involving security but that the safety and security of all of our constituents is a priority — not just at a time of heightened media awareness. I can share that we have spent a lot of time the past few weeks refreshing the assessment of bomb threat calls and protocols around that — even though none have come to Pittsburgh and all made at other JCCs have proven to be ‘hoaxes’ meant to disrupt normal operations and cause fear,” said Brian Schreiber, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.

“We often change or adjust our security measures as we learn about new practices, but we have not reacted to the vandalism or to the hoaxes that are affecting other Jewish communities except to increase communication with other Pittsburgh Jewish institutions,” echoed Adam Hertzman, director of marketing of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. “We have found that the best way to approach security is to be proactive. Right now, that means reminding community members that we already have very safe, secure Jewish institutions, so they can feel confident in continuing to participate in Jewish life.”

Retaining a sense of normalcy is challenging at times, noted Dan Kraut, CEO of Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh.

“I don’t think any Jewish person who hears what is going on in the world does not feel some concern,” he said. However, among parents at the Jewish day school, these concerns are abated by “our strong commitment to ensuring the safety of our students, and our armed security specialist.”

Community Day School, like Hillel Academy, indicated that it regularly works with trained professionals to ensure safety throughout its setting.

“Our emergency management and response plan is an active and evolving plan, and we receive regular updates and guidance from the Pittsburgh Police, the Secure Community Network and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, including security director Brad Orsini. We routinely conduct drills to prepare our students and staff for emergency procedures,” said Avi Baran Munro, head of school at Community Day School.

At Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh, “there is an administrator in the school who is responsible for constantly making sure that the security protocol is up to date. We also regularly meet with our administrators to get feedback and update our security procedures. We also conduct routine drills with the students to be prepared for all types of emergencies,” said Rabbi Chezky Rosenfeld, director of development at Yeshiva Schools.

Last year, even before the spate of threats and grave-marring occurred, “our Jewish Federation board formed a task force to look at the issue of security within our Pittsburgh Jewish community. The board found that, although our Jewish institutions are already excellent at balancing security and openness, many could benefit from expert training, support and sharing of best practices. Based on their work, we hired our very first Jewish community security director, Brad Orsini, who began his employment with the Jewish Federation on Jan. 3 after 27 years of FBI experience,” said Cindy Shapira, chair of the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, in a prepared statement.

Since his arrival, Orsini has been relied upon greatly by the community.

Members of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills are “currently forming a security committee, which has a scheduled meeting with Orsini,” noted Steve Hecht, executive director of Beth El.

Temple Sinai is similarly working with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, as well as the Pittsburgh Police Department and the ADL, explained Drew Barkley, executive director of Temple Sinai.

Orsini will work “to help all Jewish organizations with training and best practices and to help to coordinate between organizations,” said Hertzman.

But even apart from an individual overseeing various matters, some of the best security can be done by everyone, explained several local leaders.

At Community Day School, they employ a “see something say something” policy to “detect potentially suspicious activity,” said Munro.

“We remind everyone inside any of our facilities of what the Department of Homeland Security has been telling us for years, ‘When you see something, say something,’” agreed Schreiber. “That has really helped us over time address different risk situations of various forms.”

Adam Reinherz can be reached at adamr@thejewischronicle.net.

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