Federation presents annual security ‘State of the Union’
Meeting takes on added significance because of Tree of Life trial, slated to begin in April
Shawn Brokos, director of community security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, met on Jan. 26 with leaders from various Jewish institutions to discuss Pittsburgh’s Jewish security landscape.
The meeting, which Brokos hosts annually, took on added significance as the community prepares for the trial of the man accused of killing 11 Jews at the Tree of Life building, scheduled to begin on April 24.
Each year, Brokos said, she holds “a meeting with our agency heads to talk about what we saw the previous year in terms of security — the enhancements we’ve made, where we are and where we need to be.”
While the meeting itself wasn’t unusual, Brokos said the accelerated timeline for security needs — typically the briefing looks a year out for security requirements, but is now focused on April 24 — is unique.
“I’m not trying to create panic,” Brokos said. “We’re not in crisis mode but want all of our organizations to be as prepared as possible. We have the resources. The organizations are not on their own.”
The looming start of the trial wasn’t the only issue addressed by Brokos in what could be described as her security “State of the Union” address. A bevy of facts and figures were presented to those in attendance, including how many people were trained, how much security grant money was received and other details.
Despite there being no direct or indirect threats related to the trial, the region is in an increased “threat tempo,” as Brokos has pointed out in previous conversations with the Chronicle. Over the last year, there were several local antisemitic incidents, including attacks in Squirrel Hill and Greenfield, as well as hate messages on social media sites and area billboards.
Brokos said there were 122 local incidents last year, up from 82 in 2021 and only 44 in 2020. While that rise might seem alarming, she was quick to note that the incidents come with a few caveats. In 2020, for instance, most people were in their homes during the early months of COVID-19 and the numbers reported for that year were mostly online incidents, including Zoom bombings.
On a more positive note, the rise in numbers could be attributed to the fact that more people are reporting incidents — possibly due to community training.
Last year, there were nearly 6,000 people trained in Pittsburgh during 105 separate trainings, and local Jewish institutions received more than $1.5 million in state security grants spread across 27 organizations.
To assist in the reporting of incidents, Brokos unveiled a new QR Code, making it easier for community members to report suspicious activity using their phones.
And while she said security preparedness is one part of the puzzle as the trial approaches, Brokos noted there is another aspect to the region’s readiness: the emotional well-being of the community.
“We’re working closely with the 10.27 Healing Partnership and mental health professionals to make sure the community has the support network in place,” she said. “It’s important to think about a layered approach.”
That’s important, she explained, because while the community has worked to harden targets and increase training, those measures, as well as fear of the unknown, might cause anxiety.
One area where anxiety could impact security, she explained, is with an active shooter.
“In Pittsburgh, that’s a big one,” she said.
Brokos said Pittsburgh has a security network that includes security staff at day schools and other institutions, as well as partners in both law enforcement and the Secure Community Network, the official safety and security organization of the Jewish community in North America.
Rodef Shalom Congregation Executive Director Barb Feige said the Shadyside congregation spent time and money hardening its building, which also houses Tree of Life Congregation and Congregation Dor Hadash.
“We are aware of the trial, and we are aware of our need to heighten our awareness,” Feige said.
The congregation, she said, has partnerships not only with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police but maintains relationships with the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University police forces as well.
Congregation Beth Shalon Executive Director Robert Gleiberman said his congregation, like other Pittsburgh Jewish institutions, is always focused on security.
“With what’s coming up, we’re going to be even more vigilant and keep our ears up and keep our eyes open,” he said.
Several miles from the city, Leslie Hoffman, executive director of Temple Emanuel of South Hills, said that the congregation is grateful for its strong partnership with the Mt. Lebanon Police Department.
“We work in concert with them and Federation to ensure the safety of all those that come to our building, whether it’s for religious services, programs and speakers or educational opportunities,” she said.
The community, Brokos said, will have an opportunity to spend an evening with FBI experts as they discuss violent extremism and how to best prepare in the case of radicalization and hate crimes, on Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 6 p.m. at Rodef Shalom Congregation. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.