Consistent with being a space “for everybody,” the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh quickly transitioned itself into becoming a crisis center in the aftermath of the Oct. 27 massacre at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha.
“Somewhere around somewhere 10:15 or 10:30 we got a call from the Tree of Life president of the congregation knowing that they couldn’t get toward the crime scene and were looking for some place to congregate,” said Brian Schreiber, JCC’s president and chief executive officer.
Without hesitation the Squirrel Hill center opened itself to victims’ families and loved ones, as well as to the FBI, American Red Cross and the Allegheny County Department of Human Services Crisis Team.
“By mid- to late morning people started gathering,” said Schreiber.
As the groups congregated in Levinson Hall, a surplus of food arrived. Pizza, sandwiches, pretzels, cereal, salads, pasta, bottled water and canteens of coffee were among the countless items freely available.
Schreiber, who was out of town on Saturday morning, traveled back and arrived at the center around 1:15 p.m. to join friends and family members in grieving and his staff in providing comfort.
“They just knew to come here, which speaks volumes,” he said on Sunday. “We just told them to be here for as long they needed to be. Some of them were here through the entire night, and some of them are still here today in the event that there are family members that need supports.”
Jimmy Ruttenberg, JCC’s board chair, noted that “people from different faiths convene in the community and we’re here for everybody, and that’s the role that we’ll continue to play moving forward.”
Although the Squirrel Hill site canceled all of its Sunday programming out of respect for those using its spaces, activities were expected to resume Monday morning, Oct. 29.
“I think the role of the JCC will continue to evolve as we go past the shock and the victim stage and think about community response,” said Schreiber. “We’re still a convener. Obviously we’re going to host the community gatherings, we know we’re a place of comfort, we know that we are a place that has a lot of grassroots relationships and this is going to require not just leadership from the perceived top of the community but from throughout the entire community.”
Moving forward, we “think that it will be appropriate that the sooner we get back to regular activities, the better that will be,” said Ruttenberg. “So if the JCC can help the community get back to some type of normalcy as soon as possible we think that’s our responsibility to lead that.”
“We have staff members and former staff members that have lost family, and we are going to be very close with them, so I think the victim and family assistance is going to continue for a very significant period of time and we will be there for that, so that’s not just a community role, it’s very personal,” he said. “There are also a number of members, clients, constituents that were also impacted by [the attack]. I think there’s going to be a lot of hand holding necessary and we’ll be there.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.