Jewish institutions in Greater Cleveland received increased attention Oct. 27 from the Jewish Federation of Cleveland security team and law enforcement officials in the wake of a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue left 11 dead and six injured earlier that day.
Stephen H. Hoffman, the president of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland who was reached in Jerusalem after Shabbat, told the CJN, “This is a horrible tragedy. Our hearts are going out to the victims’ families, the families of the first responders.
“And of course, all of us in Cleveland could imagine ourselves in that situation. And so, we have tremendous sympathy for everyone.”
Hoffman said he received a call from Oren Baratz, senior vice president/external affairs, informing him of the situation.
“I was in my room in the King David Hotel and I got a call from Oren to turn on the television,” Hoffman said. “It was about 6 o’clock here (11 a.m. in Cleveland). And that’s when I saw everything that was going on.”
His immediate reaction?
“I wanted to cry,” Hoffman said.
He said he’s been through similar situations, but it’s a “nightmare we have anticipated. That’s one of the reasons that you often see police in our buildings during services. … We have anticipated the active-shooter scenario and we’ve been trying to put measures into place to help people deal with it when the time comes. And now, of course, we’re going to have this example to spur everyone on to address these things more forthrightly than ever.”
A heavier presence of Federation security and police was evident at synagogues the days after the shooting.
“Our security team has been in touch with all the police departments to provide extra coverage at all the synagogues,” Hoffman said. “And our security people have been over to (the) Green Road (area), where communication is not normal on Shabbat. And we’ll be making plans for the next few days after Shabbat ends with local institutions and we’ve authorized whatever expenditures are necessary to give the community assurance that we’re all going to be safe tomorrow.”
Hoffman was referring to the prohibition of electronic devices on Shabbat in the Orthodox community.
Jim Hartnett, director of community-wide security at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and a former FBI agent, and Jeff Robertson, a member of the Federation security team and a former Cleveland Heights police chief, were “on the ground” once they learned of the incident, Hoffman said.
“Our communications system is working according to plan,” Hoffman said. “There was an email message to key people and a voice mail.”
Beachwood Police Chief Gary Haba told the CJN they normally have extra patrols near the synagogues because of Shabbat and didn’t need to bring in additional personnel.
“We immediately just alerted our officers and increased patrols until we know what’s going on,” he said Oct. 27. “At this point, unless we get other intelligence, that’s where we’re at.”
He said patrols will be increased for the next several days.
Drew Barkley, who is executive director of Temple Sinai in Pittsburgh, grew up in Shaker Heights and attended Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood, said, “This would be as if it happened at Fairmount Temple or at Silver’s (The Temple-Tifereth Israel) or at Park (Synagogue).”
In direct response to the shootings, Barkley said he was working Oct. 27 to obtain armed security for Oct. 28 in order to safeguard both the temple’s religious school of 140 children and a board retreat.
“Tree of Life is a mile-and-a-half from where I live and a mile-and-a-half from where I work,” he said, describing Squirrel Hill as a neighborhood similar to suburbs like Cleveland Heights or Shaker Heights. He said Squirrel Hill is home to seven or eight synagogues.
“The Jewish community is very close-knit and collaborative,” Barkley said. “Chances are, most people will know someone here who was killed.
“The Pittsburgh Jewish Federation has on staff a former FBI agent as a precaution, he said. “It’s devastating here, in particular. There was no lead-up to this, there were no warnings from Homeland Security.”
Barkley said his wife asked him earlier today, “‘What happened to our Pittsburgh?’” he said. “But the community is rallying, both the Jewish community and the interfaith community at large.”
Barkley expected there to be broad and diverse attendance at a vigil.
“It’s just a place where people get along, just like what Mr. Rogers says.”
Michael Eisenberg, the past president of the Conservative synagogue, told Pittsburgh television station KDKA, “At 9:45, there were three simultaneous congregations’ services that were being held. In the main part of the building, the Tree of Life has a service that has about 40 people in it. Just below that there is a basement area where New Life congregation would have been having their Shabbat service. There would have been 30 to 40 people. Just adjacent to Tree of Light’s service area, a congregation was in the rabbi study room and they would have had approximately 15 people in there.”
Authorities said the gunman opened fire during a baby naming and bris.
“On a day like today, the door is open,” Eisenberg told the station. “It’s a religious service. You could walk in and out. Only on the High Holidays is there a police presence at the entrance.”
Rabbi Jeremy Pappas, who on Aug. 29 became regional director of the ADL in Cleveland, learned of the shooting in the afternoon. His office handles western Pennsylvania, where Tree of Life is located.
“I received a knock on my door late this afternoon as my family was just returning from Shabbat lunch,” Pappas told the CJN. “Obviously, we had not heard the news, and a knock on the door definitely altered the course of today, just to become aware a tragedy like this.
“Our hearts break for the families of those killed and all those injured at the synagogue and the entire Jewish community of Pittsburgh and the entire country.”
Pappas was in Pittsburgh Oct. 28 and attended a vigil at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum.
“I will be on the ground in Pittsburgh as soon as possible to assist in any way possible, locally and to be there just to offer our support and our help and our guidance,” he said Oct. 27, adding his initial response was one of “terrible sadness and grief.”
“It’s just an unthinkable tragedy, the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of our country. It’s unbelievable sadness.”