Jewish Communal Professionals Arrive in Pittsburgh for Emergency Response Initiative

Today, the first of dozens of Jewish Community Center and JCC camp professionals from across the United States and Canada are arriving at the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh (JCCPGH) to help meet the community’s needs as it heals from the Tree of Life massacre. Among those responding will be rabbis from JWB Jewish Chaplains Council who have served in active combat situations and are well-versed in dealing with post-traumatic stress. The emergency response program, JResponse, is a new signature initiative of JCC Association of North America that was introduced this week during a Jewish leadership solidarity visit to Pittsburgh organized by JCC Association and Jewish Federations of North America in partnership with the JCC of Pittsburgh, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and Jewish Family and Community Services Pittsburgh (JFCS).

The visiting staff, or JResponders, will provide added capacity and support to staff members of the JCCPGH, which has been the center of victim support, shiva, mourning and trauma services since the Oct. 27 shooting. JResponders will volunteer each Monday and Friday to give staff members a much-needed respite, providing services based on the needs of the day, whether that be at the reception desk or serving lunch.

(In Portland, the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland this week approved preliminary funding for a director of community security.)

“The JCC of Greater Pittsburgh’s staff have shown incredible fortitude in the face of circumstances they couldn’t have imagined even in their darkest nightmares,” said Doron Krakow, president and CEO of JCC Association. “They’ve lovingly cared for children, served meals to seniors, staffed yoga and exercise classes, and greeted each and every person who walked through their doors with a smile and, more often than not, a gentle embrace. They’ve been pressed into service of an unimaginable kind. And they’ve kept laser focus on what needed to be done to provide for everyone who came to the JCC—for any reason. Now, it is the larger Jewish community’s turn to provide for them. JCC Association is proud to help provide that support through JResponse.”

Beginning on Friday, Nov. 16, JResponders will arrive at the JCCPGH from California, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia. JCC Association will also connect JCCPGH staff and participants with members of the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, a signature program of the agency, who have personal experience in combat scenarios supporting U.S. military service members and veterans to address post-traumatic stress disorders, and will be available to JCCPGH staff and members.

Krakow introduced JResponse on Tuesday during a solidarity visit to Pittsburgh attended by more than 100 Jewish community leaders that was organized by JCC Association in partnership with JCCPGH, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and Jewish Family and Community Services Pittsburgh (JFCS).

Brian Schreiber, president and CEO JCCPGH, remarked, “It meant a tremendous amount to our community that so many colleagues and friends from all corners of the JCC, federation and Jewish camping movements made it a priority to stand with us, to listen to our stories, and to show their support and compassion. We will remember the Tree of Life shooting as one of the worst tragedies in American Jewish history. We will also remember it as a time when the Jewish community, and the nation as a whole, came together in solidarity and against anti-Semitism.”

Throughout the solidarity visit, the leaders from across Canada and the United States attended a briefing by the FBI Victims Support Services; toured the Squirrel Hill neighborhood where the shooting took place; and participated in a memorial service at the Tree of Life synagogue, the first public event to take place there since the attack. Surrounded by hundreds of hand-written signs, artwork and banners from around the world with messages of love and support, they discussed ways the community will begin to heal and implement JResponse.

“Our JCC professionals know what an important role their individual JCCs play in their own communities and how dedicated their own staffs are, and understand like no one else the commitment of the Pittsburgh JCC staff. Our JCC professionals are eager to help their peers in Pittsburgh—and by extension, the Pittsburgh Jewish community—in any way that they can. JResponse will allow them to exercise this essential Jewish value of being there for one another in a time of need,” said Gary E. Jacobs, chair of JCC Association’s board of directors.

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