By Jeff Finkelstein |
I have taken some time over the last few weeks to reflect back on how much has happened in the last two years since the attack at the Tree of Life Building but especially on the leadership and investment made by our Federation in the area of security. You will recall that our Federation Board took the step of hiring our first ever Jewish Community Security Director in January 2017 and we know that his work had been so important in not only saving lives on October 27, 2018 but in protecting all of us from the inception of our security program. Since October 2018, we have continued to build upon the foundation we set.
Recently, our Security Director, Shawn Brokos, with our Security Committee chaired by David Ainsman, took the lead in procuring and providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to any Jewish organization requiring it at no cost to any Jewish institution. To us, safety includes keeping people healthy.
Due to the incredible generosity of a private foundation, we are close to completing installation and activation of a system called BluePoint in 15 of our Jewish institutions. Bluepoint is a state of the art alert system that not only connects to our local law enforcement, it also connects all the Jewish institutions with each other. If something might happen at one organization, all will know about it. This investment of nearly $750,000 comes at no initial cost to any local synagogue or agency and Federation security will manage the platform going forward. We have installed it in our Jewish Day Schools and Early Childhood Centers.
We assembled and distributed 500 “Go Bags” for every classroom in the Jewish community within synagogues and agencies. These bags contain nearly everything one would need in case of any kind of emergency whether it be medical or security related. This came at no cost to any local organization.
We are trying not only to keep our community safe, but also trying to help everyone to feel safe. Feeling safe is just as important so that all will continue to engage in Jewish life. We have been saying since the start of our security initiative that our goal is to make the community both safe and open. None of this would happen without the convening power of our Federation. These and other capital investments, government dollars we successfully lobbied for, and security personnel hired by Federation on behalf of the Jewish community has resulted in approximately $2 million in investments since October 27, 2018.
We wish we didn’t need to spend a penny on security. We would much prefer putting those dollars into programming, education or support for those in need, but unfortunately this is our reality and we will always take the safety of our community members as a high priority.
Thank you for helping us keep our community safe. Shabbat Shalom. Go Steelers. Wear that mask!
P.S. If you are interested, the Secure Community Network conducted a webinar entitled “Two Years After the Pittsburgh Attack: The Evolution and Future of Securing the Jewish Community” that includes our former Security Director Brad Orsini, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers and me.
At the heart of the Jewish community in Pittsburgh, the Jewish Federation has helped lead the community’s response to COVID-19.
Now, the Jewish Federation is taking a proactive approach to a problem with the potential to worsen during the pandemic: how to safeguard children from maltreatment, including sexual abuse. A new partnership with Pittsburgh-based nonprofit Sacred Spaces will illuminate the problem with “Safeguarding Youth from Abuse: A Community Introduction,” a 90-minute webinar at 8 p.m. Nov. 17, open to everyone in the Jewish community.
“We will provide an introduction to safeguarding children and teens from maltreatment in Jewish communities, including an overview of the key issues and critical information to help community members recognize grooming behaviors and early indicators of abuse,” says Dr. Shira Berkovits, President and CEO of Sacred Spaces, who will be leading the webinar.
The Jewish Federation will be sending out a survey to the community—including teens in grades 9-12—to ascertain the Jewish community’s knowledge, preparedness, and comfort on the topic of safeguarding children from abuse. The survey will be open for two weeks and will help inform future webinars that will be conducted with Sacred Spaces. Participants who respond to the survey can opt in to a raffle where they can win 1 of 4 $25 Amazon gift cards.
“Our local youth-serving organizations have paid a lot of attention to security from external threats, thanks to our Jewish Community security program at Federation,” says Rabbi Amy Bardack, Director of Jewish Life and Learning for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
“Now, the Jewish Federation, in partnership with Sacred Spaces, is creating a community conversation because internal threats, from the people who already have access to children, are just as important to protect against. It is our hope that through this series of webinars, and a survey, our community partners will be able to implement protections quickly and easily, ensuring that our community remains safe from all threats, inside and out.”
It’s never an easy thing to talk about, but it’s incredibly important.
“We have never had a community-wide initiative to learn best practices in prevention of child abuse in the Pittsburgh Jewish community,” explains Bardack. “Safeguarding children from maltreatment is a priority for every youth-serving organization, and many here in Pittsburgh are committed to continuing work already begun. Several youth-serving organizations approached Sacred Spaces to see if they could expand their safeguarding efforts to serve as models for organizations throughout the country. We decided that as Federation we could convene all our local organizations that serve children – professionals, parents, and lay leaders—to learn best practices to ensure child safety.”
Ultimately, disseminating this knowledge can only make the Jewish community of Pittsburgh stronger.
“It takes a community to safeguard youth,” says Berkovits.
“This webinar is intended for all community members. We need a shared understanding of the safety risks our youth face–both from outside and inside our youth-serving organizations, as well as the safeguards available to us, so that all community members can model safe behaviors, help identify instances of concern, and intervene responsibly.”
About Shira Berkovits of Sacred Spaces
A behavioral psychologist with a research background in creating large-scale organizational change, and an attorney specialized in criminal law, Shira has spent years studying the intersection of psychology and law as related to sexual offending in faith communities. Bringing a uniquely Jewish lens, Shira partners with Jewish leaders to build healthy and accountable institutions, whose culture and daily operations foster sacredness and reduce the risk of harassment, abuse, and other forms of interpersonal harm. In her role as CEO of Sacred Spaces, she has worked with Jewish communities across five continents to prevent, handle, and heal from institutional abuse.
Do you know what you’re doing for the High Holidays?
As the High Holidays approach, use these links to find services that fit your plans.
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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.
Oneg Shabbat, Tikkun Olam, Diller Teen Fellows and Yom Ha’atzmaut Celebrations
Wow, what a couple of special weeks we’ve had!
Starting with a trivia game for the Oneg Shabbat at the Jewish Federation (a meeting held about the Jewish programming around the community) on a Friday afternoon that sent us to Shabbat with a smile, and continuing with the J-Serve opportunity that we took part in!
We led a “Tikkun Olam” activity (since this event is all about giving back and volunteering,) in which we made tye-dye headbands, and packed goody packages for two organizations: one in Pittsburgh and one in Karmiel-Misgav, as a way of connecting our two communities! It was inspiring seeing youth in different ages, coming together to do good.
The week after, Diller Teen Fellows (a Jewish youth leadership program) had a seminar held called JCM (Jewish Community Mifgash), and a group of 20 teens from Karmiel-Misgav came to spend the week here in Pittsburgh, getting to know the community, and the Diller fellows hear in Pittsburgh! It was a great experience for us to get to know the Israeli group, as well as continue to connect with the American group here! We led a program for the teens, which discussed the question ‘what will they take away from this experience with them?’ It was very interesting talking and hearing their answers for this question, as well as trying to answer it for ourselves based on our experience here in your amazing community for the past 8 months.
We also led a pre-Yom Ha’atzmaut program at Temple Beth El, which will be followed by an official Yom Ha’atzmaut activity during May!
In the Hagada we learn that the people of Israel leave Egypt, and are no longer enslaved: they are free, and moreover- they are now one people. They leave together, as a community, even family if you’d like, and go on a 40-year long journey in the desert on their way to the promised land.
This weeks we talked about community and it’s meaning a lot. We really feel a part of this community, Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, and couldn’t be more thankful for it.
Hadar and Raz
Stu is a Volunteer Center Committee Member. When asked to nominate a volunteer, Stu Harris immediately came to mind.
The compassion Stu shows to the people we serve is an inspiration for us all. He is a dedicated volunteer in terms of giving of himself and back to the Pittsburgh Jewish Community and the city abroad . Stu has such a wonderful ability work with a variety of people at different levels and always brings a sense of cheerfulness to the volunteer experience. As a selfless volunteer, he sets a great example for those who are around him. The extra effort, dedication, insights and opinions are all extremely valuable to the successful undertakings of Stu’s involvement with the Volunteer Center.