An Update from the Christchurch Foundation Overseeing Money Donated Through the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh
The Christchurch Foundation is making sound progress distributing money to meet the needs of the victims of the 2019 attack on the Muslim community and their families. This has been complicated by the pressures put on by the pandemic. These strains affect us all but more so those already weakened suffering as a result of the terror attacks. Thankfully the 5 million people in New Zealand have a geographical advantage being 3 hours fight away from our nearest neighbour and, by going Hard and Early the death toll is just 23.
The government and community have been active in a number of areas following the terrorist attack:
- Tighter gun controls have been out in place. This had made demi-automatic and assault style rifles illegal.
- The killer pleaded guilty and chose not to make a statement in court prior to sentencing. While this saved the victims being overloaded with repeat trauma, it denied them the opportunity to express their grief. He was sentenced to life without any prospect of parole.
- Funding has been provided to upgrade physical security at religious sites. While the Safer Communities funding was available to all, the only successful applications were made by the Jewish community (about 13 sites) and Muslim community (50+ Sites). We have been working with the Muslim community, giving advice on equipment and supplier choices and pricing. In addition we are sharing some training and other documentation.
- A Royal Commission sat reviewing all matters around the Christchurch Terror Attacks. We made a number of submissions to the commission including:
- Systemic failure in the Police and Security. For at least 10 years we had been warning the security areas about the vulnerability of the community (in this case Jewish rather than Muslim) to a lone wolf white supremist.
- The need for a whole of society overview to deal with racism, hate speech, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia. We are starting to make some slow progress.
The report was presented to government on the 5th and will be tabled in Parliament on 10th December. I had a confidential preview with the commissioners on Tuesday last week. While limited in what can be said the report is quite critical of government ownership of the problems let alone finding the multi-disciplined resolution.
Overall the Muslim and Jewish communities have never been closer; something good has flourished out of all that evil.
Thank you for all your support.
Authored by the New Zealand Jewish Council, working with the Christchurch Foundation to distribute money contributed by the Jewish Federation.
The image was shocking — anti-Semitic graffiti saying, “Kill the Jews,” spray-painted on the Beverly Hills sign in California and attributed to “Antifa.” It went viral via social media.
The only problem was that it was fake. There was graffiti, but it was Photoshopped to turn the message anti-Semitic.
“We want to make sure that we’re able to understand the nature of threats quickly, whether they’re real or faked, and get that information out to the Jewish community so they can feel safe,” says Shawn Brokos, director of Jewish community security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. “Fortunately, we have a rapid reaction force to help Jewish communities where misinformation about anti-Semitism may surface, quickly enough for them to do damage control.”
The Jewish Federation — which has been on high alert since the 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue building — is working closely with Jewish Federations around the U.S. and Canada to address the expanding volume of misinformation spreading in advance of the election in November. Brokos works with Jewish Federations of North America’s national group called the Secure Community Network, that specializes in this work.
“It’s critical now more than ever to distinguish between what’s real and what’s fake. During a time when lots of misinformation exists on social media across the political spectrum, it’s even more important not to jump to conclusions when we see reports of anti-Semitism in Pittsburgh or around our region.”David Sufrin, chair of the Jewish Federation’s board of directors
“The unfortunate truth is that sometimes these incidents are real,” says Jeffrey Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation. “That’s why we have an excellent relationship with law enforcement and the ability to share information rapidly across the Jewish community to keep Jewish agencies and synagogues secure.”
This isn’t an isolated incident. Recently, Antifa was blamed for putting up barriers in front of a synagogue, Chabad of Sherman Oaks; another report called the security barriers “weapons placed by Antifa and professional anarchists.” Chabad of Sherman Oaks had actually installed the barriers themselves.
“We know that there is fake information being promulgated by people on the right and the left, not to mention fake information put out by foreign governments trying to intervene in the United States’ election. We know from the recent, bipartisan U.S. Senate report that China and Russia are actively using social media to try to interfere. As horrible as it is for them to use something like anti-Semitism to do that, it’s not outside the realm of possibility,” said Brokos.
There are simple things that the Jewish community members can do to help.
“It can be as simple as getting the message out to their Jewish community that there is fake information about anti-Semitism circulating,” says Brokos. “If you see something, say something, for certain. But you should also not just assume right away that it’s real.”
People can report potentially anti-Semitic information or incidents at jewishpgh.org/security, or by contacting the Jewish Federation by phone at 412-681-8000. If anyone feels threatened, they should call 911. The City of Pittsburgh also recently upgraded 311, a non-emergency phone number for problems such as graffiti. Non-Pittsburgh residents can reach “311” operators by calling 412-255-2621.
“We don’t want people to ignore reports of anti-Semitic incidents,” says Adam Hertzman, director of communications for the Jewish Federation. “On the contrary, it’s important to report things like this. But it’s also important for the Jewish community to know that, especially at a time of political turmoil, they shouldn’t believe everything they see on social media.”
This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, notes Hertzman.
“There aren’t a lot of divisions in the United States when it comes to racism, bigotry and hatred,” says Hertzman. “After the Oct. 27 attacks on the three synagogues in Pittsburgh, we all saw how the city of Pittsburgh, and the U.S., and the world came together to condemn this act. Where it becomes divisive is where it’s attributed to someone with one particular political ideology.”
The law enforcement community works very closely with Jewish security efforts.
“This is about keeping the Jewish community secure and making people feel safe,” says Brokos. “The reason someone would create a fake image or fake story or fake video is to instill fear, doubt, and unrest. Staying vigilant, mindful and accurately informed is the way to combat that.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s security fund will pay for armed security at area synagogues and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh for the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah (Sept. 30–Oct.1) and Yom Kippur (Oct. 8¬–9).
“Our community is very safe, but we understand that people going to Jewish worship services need to feel secure after the attack on three of our congregations last year and that many of our synagogues have taken on added security expenses. We want to be helpful to them.”Jeffrey Finkelstein, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh
A volunteer committee that allocates Jewish Federation’s security fund wanted to make sure that synagogues have security given that many people will be returning to Jewish religious services for the first time since the attack.
“We are working closely with police from municipalities across the greater Pittsburgh area to coordinate efforts,” said Brad Orsini, Director of Community Security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
The Jewish Federation does not currently plan to pay for synagogue security personnel for future holidays or events. However, the Jewish Federation’s Security Committee is working on several new community-wide initiatives to continue to increase the level of security coordination among Jewish organizations and synagogues.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has finalized an agreement to transfer $666,430.55 to help the Muslim community of New Zealand. The money — raised in response to the March 15 Christchurch, New Zealand, terror attack — resulted from support from around the world, including more than $60,000 raised by Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha Congregation.
“We opened this emergency relief fund in solidarity with the Christchurch and local Muslim communities, after the Pittsburgh Muslim community was so helpful and supportive after the attack on our own religious institutions last year. None of us here anticipated this incredible outpouring of support from around the world.”Brian Eglash, chief development officer of the Jewish Federation
Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha Congregation chose to consolidate its fund for Christchurch support with the Jewish Federation’s New Zealand Islamophobic Attack Emergency Relief Fund, given the complexity of transferring funds between countries. The Jewish Federation worked with an overseas partner, the New Zealand Jewish Council, Inc., to set up a fund at the Christchurch Foundation. The fund contains money raised by both the Jewish Federation and the congregation.
The grant of $666,430.55 will be directed to the welfare of the victims in Christchurch and their immediate families. This includes funding for counseling and other support services in New Zealand as well as education and vocational training, medical treatment, and financial planning and related services in New Zealand and Australia. The fund will also support Muslim and Jewish programming and other connections between the Muslim and Jewish communities that help to promote healing.
“The Jewish Federation often serves as the central fundraising entity for Jewish Pittsburgh, so we are grateful to Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha for trusting us to find the right partner in New Zealand,” said Jeffrey Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation. “The New Zealand Jewish Council is an all-volunteer organization, and we thank them for being such diligent and caring partners.”
The Jewish Federation opened the New Zealand Islamophobic Attack Emergency Relief Fund just hours after the March 15, 2019, attack on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The fund closed March 31, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh collected more money than anticipated.
“It feels really good to be able to connect the New Zealand Muslim community to the New Zealand Jewish community, to link our Pittsburgh Jewish community to both the New Zealand Jewish and Muslim communities, and at the same time to help the people who were affected by this horrible attack,” said Meryl Ainsman, chair of the board of the Jewish Federation.
A committee of Federation volunteers carefully vetted potential partners in New Zealand to meet high standards of fiduciary responsibility. The New Zealand Jewish Council met all these standards as did the Christchurch Foundation, which will manage and distribute the funds.
“As a community who experienced an act of hate against us, we sadly understand all too well the pain that the Muslim community in New Zealand must be feeling. If there is a silver lining to this hateful act, it is the amazing outpouring of people who care, showing the worldwide support for the Muslim community in New Zealand.”Jeffrey Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation
All the funds are to be transferred to and ultimately managed by the Christchurch Foundation. All distributions will be made by its Muslim Advisory Panel, to be authorized by both the president of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand or someone they nominate and by the president of the New Zealand Jewish Council Inc. or its nominee.
In keeping with legal and oversight requirements, the grant must “be expended for charitable, scientific, or educational purposes.” Any funds not expended for those purposes may be returned to the Federation.