Sandy Hook anniversary prompts Jewish institutions to review security

On Dec. 14, 2012, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School with a semi-automatic rifle and two semi-automatic handguns, he easily broke through the school security system.

Cameras dotted the school’s perimeter and the school even had a “sally port” system, which restricted entry to the building in a holding area until a guest was identified.

But the windows encasing the sally port were not bullet resistant. Lanza shot through the windows and murdered 20 schoolchildren and six adult staffers before taking his own life.

What have Los Angeles’s Jewish institutions learned from Sandy Hook and other mass shooting events?

On Dec. 10 and Dec. 12, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles hosted, “Seconds Count,” a training session for K-12 schools in active shooter response. The program was organized in conjunction with the LAPD and BJE (Builders of Jewish Education). School and synagogue faculty, staff, administrators and security experts attended the training to share security strategies and to learn best practices from LAPD officers.

The Tuesday event was held at Federation’s Wilshire Boulevard office building and drew about 40 people. The Thursday event was held at New Community Jewish High School and drew about 50.

Seated at multiple tables in a workshop-style environment for the Dec. 10 training, local Jewish educators were asked to brainstorm how they would improve their own security if money were no object.

One person suggested constructing a building without windows to the outside. Another would increase the number of armed security guards. Others suggested more mental-health resources and self-defense training.

Two themes, though, ran through the morning training. First, to prevent a massacre on the scale of Sandy Hook, each school must develop and repeatedly drill its own security plan.

Second, central to that security plan must be a communication system among staff, faculty, and students. According to multiple security experts present at the session, schools can quickly use their speaker system, as well as walkie-talkies and text messages to facilitate a lockdown procedure.

“They all do fire drills exceptionally well, and almost none of them do lockdown drills at all,” said Cory Wenter, director of safety and security at Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

Wenter, a former U.S. Marine who served on President George W. Bush’s security detail at Camp David, believes every Jewish school in Los Angeles is “very vulnerable” to an active shooter, defined as someone attempting to kill people in a confined space, usually with a firearm.

“No one knew Sandy Hook until it was Sandy Hook,” Wenter said. “No one thought about Virginia Tech or Columbine or any of those other things until they became that case study.”

Jason Periard, Federation’s director of community security, said that every school and synagogue must make sure that it’s not the “weakest link” in terms of security.

Periard, who spent 21 years in the Marine Corps and has worked as a criminal investigator for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), said that on Aug. 10, 1999, before Buford Furrow opened fire, wounding five people at the North Valley Jewish Community Center, he scouted other Jewish centers to survey security.

After observing the Skirball Cultural Center, American Jewish University (then the University of Judaism), and the Museum of Tolerance, he decided to check out other Jewish facilities.

“They were too hard a target,” Periard said. “[He] saw security guards out front with guns so he kept moving.”

Buford settled on the JCC because it had plenty of people and almost no security. Furrow walked into the JCC’s lobby carrying a semi-automatic rifle and a pistol and fired 70 shots.

At the training session, attendees debated amongst themselves the effectiveness of different types of security. How can school administrators ensure a secure environment that’s also open and conducive to learning?

According to both Periard and Wenter, the balance between security and not making a space feel like a prison is difficult, but possible to navigate.

Do armed guards improve security?

Cathy Riggs, an LAPD officer, thinks so. As does Marvin Goldsmith, the VP of Security at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills. “Armed guards are a necessary component of security,” Goldsmith said.

One step every institution should take, Periard added, is to train front desk staff to identify suspicious behavior.

“You put somebody on the phone in the front of a school, generally speaking, you teach that person people skills, right? But you don't teach them tripwires, which is behavioral analysis,” Periard said.

“If the bad guy shows up at your facility and he’s doing what’s called the casing or walkthrough, he’s probing you,” continued Periard. “He comes up to your lady at the front office, and she starts asking him a lot of questions, like, ‘Sir why are you here? Why are you asking me all these questions?’ He backs off and goes to the next facility.”

Opinion: Strengthening Muslim-Jewish ties in the face of evil

As a rabbi and an imam, we deeply mourn the tragic loss of innocent lives in the murderous terrorist attacks in France. We express our heartfelt sympathy and compassion for the bereaved.

Amid the wall-to-wall media coverage of the attacks and their aftermath, one piece of the story has received less attention: the inspiring manner in which Muslims and Jews in France have stood side by side in denouncing these heinous acts.

Thousands of Muslims and Jews reacted to the savage killings of three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse and the earlier murders of three French soldiers, including two Muslims, by joining together in solidarity marches in communities throughout Paris.

Meanwhile, top French Muslim and Jewish leaders have vowed to stand united in opposition to acts which Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, has accurately characterized as being “in total contradiction with the foundation of this religion [Islam].”

This heartening coming-together of Jews and Muslims in France did not happen in a vacuum.

In 2003, Rabbi Michel Serfaty, the spiritual leader of the Jewish community of the Paris suburb of Ris Orangis, responded to being accosted by Muslim youths near his synagogue by founding the Jewish-Muslim Friendship Society of France, which is dedicated to building ties of understanding and trust between the two communities. Every year the organization’s dedicated Muslim and Jewish staffers and volunteers take part in a Tour de France, in the process building a network of ties between grass-roots Muslims and Jews in towns and cities throughout the country.

In 2009, the European imams and rabbis who took part in the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding’s Mission of European Imams and Rabbis to the United States agreed to participate in the foundation’s annual Weekend of Twinning in which scores of mosques and synagogues and Muslim and Jewish organizations hold one-on-one encounters during a weekend each November in cities around the world.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the FFEU and the Islamic Society of North America will host the first Mission of Latin American Muslim and Jewish Leaders. The event will bring 14 imams and rabbis from five South American countries and two Caribbean islands to Washington for meetings with Muslim and Jewish members of Congress and with top officials at the White House and State Department. We are optimistic the mission will jump-start a process of dialogue and cooperation between the Muslim and Jewish communities of Latin America.

What we have learned from five years of working together to nurture an ever-expanding fabric of Muslim-Jewish relationships—and what has been proven anew by the joint response of Muslims and Jews in France to the terror in Toulouse—is that when Muslims and Jews open sustained face-to-face communication, we can maintain our unity even in the face of unspeakable horror directed against our respective communities.

As we have undertaken together a joint study of Torah, Koran and the oral traditions of our two faiths, we have discovered profound commonalities between our beliefs. We have come to understand that just as we share a common faith—dating back to our common patriarch, Abraham/Ibrahim—we also share a common fate. Our single destiny must strengthen our bonds of concern, compassion and caring for each other.

Indeed, as Jews and Muslims, not only must we carry out a sustained dialogue, but we must actively fight for each other’s rights, standing together against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. We believe deeply that a people which fights for its own rights is only as honorable as when it fights for the rights of all people. For only when we see the humanity in the Other can we preserve it within ourselves.

Rabbi Marc Schneier is president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. Imam Shamsi Ali is the spiritual leader of the Jamaica Muslim Center in New York.

Tears flow amidst a determination for democracy

The Jewish community in New York gathered for a memorial service at the Consulate of France Tuesday afternoon.  The well-attended service was organized by Rabbis Joseph Potasnik and Avi Weiss. Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, Senior Rabbi of the Park Avenue Synagogue, offered the comfort of psalm and prayer.  The warm sun belied the shutter felt deep in the souls of all who listened as Cantor Paul Zim intoned the “El Male Rachamim,” plaintively calling for the souls of the victims to be gathered to Gan Eden.

In a private conversation with Annette Herszkowicz, the aunt of Eva Sandler, widow of the assassinated Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and mother of Gavriel and Aryeh, she spoke of the joy and happiness the Sandlers were enjoying as they began a life of academic and outreach activities in the Jewish community of South Western France.  “They have killed innocents.  Wonderful young people who had no time to enjoy life and happiness,” she said, as tears ran along her cheeks.

“They were so happy.”  Herszkowicz, who had “exchanged blessings” with her sister during a Sunday night telephone call, said she now had no words to say, no way to comfort her sister or her niece.  She has not spoken with them since the tragedy occurred.

Jonathan and Eva Sandler had returned to their native France from their home in Jerusalem only seven months earlier.  He would teach Torah to the Jewish community of South Western France and do kiruv—outreach—in the community.  At 30, he was already well known as a columnist in Kountrass, a Lithuanian Haredi monthly newspaper distributed in France and Israel. He did outreach work as a volunteer for Shoresh, bringing Judaism to secular Jews.

Eva, a mother of three small children, could be close to her mother. Of Sephardic heritage, she was raised in Paris. Jonathan was of Ashkenazi background.  He had studied in Toulouse before making aliyah. Several members of his family had survived Auschwitz, said Herszkowicz.

“They were overjoyed about life, their children, and one another. Jonathan was scholarly, dedicated to enhancing Torah knowledge.  They were reveling in their growing family, pleased with the birth of a little girl, following her two big brothers,” said their disconsolate aunt.

The massacre at the entrance to the Ozar HaTorah Jewish school in Toulouse, France, brought death to four members of Annette Herszkowicz’s family.  Miriam Monsonego, the 8-year-old executed by bullet to the head, was a cousin.  Jonathan Sandler had come to France to teach at the school her father directed.

In Israel, MK Danny Danon, Chair of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, called for an urgent debate stressing that “the attack on the Jewish school in France is a red warning light for the whole of world Jewry. The countries of the world must unite against such attacks against the Jewish People, and take action to destroy the seeds of anti-Semitic terrorism being planted around the world. We shall not permit the pogroms of the early 20th century to be repeated in Europe.” 

In New York, Consul General Philippe Lalliot spoke privately with JointMedia News Service. Calling Monday “a difficult moment for all, but a day of solidarity,” the Consul said, “the entire national community of France is devastated by the tragedy. There is a profound sense of unity.”

Consul General Lalliot continued, saying, “We have to educate people and make sure that all children learn from history” He stated with determination, “This will not happen.  Never Again.  Never again.”

In a conversation with the Consul General and Dr. Paul de Vries, President of the New York Divinity School and member of the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, both the diplomat and the clergyman spoke of their identification with the tragic events as parents.  “The Consul General termed it a “horror that is beyond words. A democracy must remain vigilant,” he continued.  “We must stand for the rights of all people.”  Lalliot commended the spontaneous gathering in support of the Toulouse community when 200,000 gathered in Paris Monday night.  “France is a democracy, governed by the rule of law, not hatred and killing.  We must stand for our principals.”  The Consul was adamant about the need to create awareness from a child’s earliest years.  “We must teach courage, we must teach respect.  We must recognize the core value of every member of humanity.”

The words of New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler reflect the thoughts of many in the American community.

“I am,” he said, “absolutely horrified by the senseless and cowardly act of violence at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, France. That Jews continue to be targets of hate and violence by lunatics and feeble-minded anti-Semites is despicable. And that a madman would single out children is unspeakably depraved and tragic.”

L.A.’s French Jews react to Toulouse killings

French Jews in Southern California reacted with sadness and disgust, but not surprise, to the shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, that left three children and one teacher dead.

“In France you are scared – you cannot even wear a kippah on the street,” said Francky Perez, who moved with his wife from Paris to Los Angeles three years ago to allow their children, now 6 and 7, to express their Judaism in a safe environment. “Even if what happened in Toulouse turns out not to be anti-Semitism, you cannot pretend that hate doesn’t exist in France. It’s a reality.”

At press time Tuesday, the gunman remained at large. On Monday, a man on a motorcycle opened fire as students and parents were entering Ozar Hatorah at the start of the day, then chased students into the school as he continued shooting. Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, and his two sons, Gavriel, 3, and Aryeh, 6, were killed. The school’s principal, Rabbi Yaacov Monsonego, saw his 7-year-old daughter Miriam killed in front of him. A 17-year-old boy is in critical condition.

The area in southwestern France remains under heavy security.

“We’re all absolutely shocked. A tragedy like this shows the worst of human nature, if we can still talk about human nature in this case,” said David Martinon, France’s consul general in Los Angeles.

French investigators have linked the shooting at the 200-student school to two shootings in the area last week that killed three soldiers and left another critically injured. The soldiers were of North African and Caribbean descent.

[UPDATE: More on this story

New York City police tighten security at Jewish sites

New York police ramped up security at synagogues and other Jewish institutions on Monday following the deadly attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse, France.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said tightened surveillance and increased patrols at more than 40 locations citywide came in response to the Toulouse attack and not in response to a specific threat against New York City.

“We know that we’re the top of the terrorist target list, so we’re concerned about the so-called copy-cat syndrome where someone might see the events unfolding in Toulouse and take it upon themselves to act out,” Kelly told reporters.

He said the additional coverage includes some undercover officers “but it’s largely increased uniformed presence at houses of worship and other locations.”

A gunman on a motorbike shot dead three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday, just days after apparently killing three soldiers nearby.

New York City, home to more than 1.4 million Jews, has the largest Jewish population of any metropolitan area outside of Israel, said Levi Fishman, spokesman UJA-Federation of New York.

Following attacks abroad, the department typically reinforces security at corresponding targeted locations in New York such as hotels or the mass transit system.

Reporting By Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Philip Barbara

Sarkozy: Gunman in French shootings driven by racism [VIDEO]

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that the same gunman who shot dead a teacher and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday was also responsible for the killing of three soldiers last week, apparently motivated by racism.

“We know that it is the same person and the same weapon that killed the soldiers, the children and the teacher,” Sarkozy said in a televised address, saying the terrorism alert level in France had been raised.

“This act is odious and cannot remain unpunished.”

Sarkozy also said he would suspend his campaign for France’s April-May presidential election until Wednesday.

Reporting By Daniel Flynn and Leigh Thomas; editing by Nicolas Vinocur


From Middle East to France, a Jewish school’s journey

Rabbi Jean-Paul Amoyelle, head of the Ozar Hatorah network of Jewish schools in France, was woken at 4 a.m. during a visit to New York with chilling news.

Jewish schools and synagogues in France had been targeted in a string of attacks in the past decade, many of them arson, but this was different.

A gunman had shot dead three children and a 30-year-old Hebrew teacher at his school in Toulouse, one of 20 in France with roots in the diaspora of Middle Eastern Jewry.

The shooting marks a tragic turn for Ozar Hatorah, which was created in the wake of the Holocaust in the mid-1940s by a Syrian-born Jew intent on improving the lot of Jewish communities in the Middle East and North Africa.

In 2001 a classroom was burned down at a “Ozar Hatorah”, or “Treasure of the Torah”, school in the Paris suburb of Creteil, but the perpetrator turned out to be a pupil.

Amoyelle said Monday’s attack was a sign of growing danger.

“This was deliberate. Anti-semitic and deliberate, I have no doubt,” Amoyelle said by telephone as he was due to return to France. “I plan to install a zone of reinforced security.”

The creator of Ozar Hatorah, Isaac Shalom, opened schools in countries including Morocco, Iran, Libya and Syria to respond to what his network described as disastrous educational conditions.

As the region underwent upheaval and war following the creation of the state of Israel, Ozar Hatorah also followed the path of Jewish emigration, starting schools in France from the late 1960s as large numbers of North African Jews crossed the Mediterranean to escape heightened regional tensions.

“I was in France in 1967. I began with a school in Sarcelles (a Paris suburb), and there was already one in Lyon,” said Amoyelle, who now oversees 20 schools across Paris and cities like Marseille, Strasbourg and Aix-les-bains.

“These are schools that are perfectly integrated in the community,” he added, describing the educational program as offering two possibilities: a straightforward French education as well as a Jewish education rooted in history and religion.

Today there are over 30,000 students enrolled in Jewish schools in France, according to the French Jewish association CRIF. The number of enrolments has stabilized since 2005, according to Jewish education expert Patrick Petit-Ohayon.

Ozar Hatorah offers what Amoyelle describes as “a certain security”, a precious commodity for parents made wary by the arson attacks. Guards stand at the door to check visitors and the railings were elongated after 2001.

Parents and pupils have been left shocked and bewildered in an area they thought was safe.

“This area is very calm and as far as I know there had not been any threats,” said Laura, a parent at the school, who declined to give her last name.

Her daughter said teachers had hurried them into various rooms, including the synagogue, when the shooting broke out. “I didn’t see anything, but I heard several shots,” she said.

“It was scary.”

Additional reporting by Chine Labbe and John Irish; editing by Geert De Clercq and Philippa Fletcher

After Toulouse attack, Sarkozy suspends campaign and Jews warn of rising anti-Semitism

The attack by an unidentified gunman on a Jewish school in Toulouse, France was condemned by Jewish leaders, who also warned against the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe.

“Whoever did this is looking to target the Jewish community at its weakest point, its youth, in the hopes of spreading fear throughout the community,” said Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, in a statement. “They will not succeed. The Jews of Europe in general and the Jews of France in particular have a long history of standing firm against hatred and violence, and I know as a community French Jewry will send a message of strength and resilience in the face of those who wish to terrorize them.”

A man riding a motorbike reportedly opened fire Monday morning outside the Ozar Hatorah School, where students were waiting to enter the building at the start of the school day. The shooter then entered the building and continued shooting at students and teachers before fleeing on his motorbike.

Several students also were injured inside the building. The dead are reported to be a 30-year-old rabbi and his 3-year-old and 6-year-old sons, as well as the 10-year-old daughter of the school’s principal.

“This is a brazen assault on France and French society, and another telling reminder of the dangers that exist for Jewish communities in today’s world,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, in a statement. “We count on French authorities to pursue the investigation vigorously, arrest whoever is involved, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, as well as review security at Jewish institutions. We have confidence they will.”

Anti Defamation League national Director Abraham Foxman pointed out that the Jewish community of Toulouse has been targeted in the past three years with anti-Semitic acts of violence.

“It is critically important that the Jewish community in France feel assured that they will be safe and secure in the aftermath of this horrific incident, and we welcome the announcement that security will be intensified at Jewish institutions throughout France,” Foxman said. “We appreciate President Sarkozy’s decision to immediately go to Toulouse, for the government’s clear message to all French schools to stand in solidarity, and for the direct public statements that no efforts will be spared to bring the killer to justice.”

French Interior Minister Claude Gueant ordered security to be tightened around all Jewish schools in France after the attack.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called the attack a “national tragedy” and vowed to find the killer. “This is a day of national tragedy because children were killed in cold blood,” Sarkozy said in Toulouse, where he rushed after suspending his reelection campaign. “Barbarity, savagery, cruelty cannot win. Hate cannot win. We will find him.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would do everything to help France track down the killer. “Today we had a savage crime in France that gunned down French Jews, among them children. It’s too early to say what the precise background for this act of murder is, but I think that we can’t rule out that there was a strong murderous anti-Semitic motive here,” Netanyahu said.

“I haven’t heard yet a condemnation from any of the UN bodies but I have heard that one such body, the UN Human Rights Council,  invited on this very day a senior representative of Hamas – on this day, when we had the savage murder, they chose to invite a member of Hamas,” Netanyahu added.

“We are horrified by this attack and we trust the French authorities to shed full light on this tragedy and bring the perpetrators of these murders to justice,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP.

The White House also condemned the attack. “We were deeply saddened to learn of the horrific attack this morning against the teachers and students of a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse,” said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the victims, and we stand with a community in grief.”

All in the Family

August’s North Valley Jewish Community Center shooting is still on the minds of parents and educators.

That was the feeling one got attending a recent panel on violence in schools, held at Westwood Charter Elementary School, where members of the community gathered to air their concerns in the aftermath of recent tragedies such as the JCC incident and Columbine. The discussion was sponsored by Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, through its Metropolitan and Western Regions’ Jewish Community Relations Committee.

Panel speakers at the town meeting included Genethia Hayes, president of the LAUSD Board; Marleen Wong, LAUSD’s director of mental health; and Gwenn Perez, assistant chief of LAUSD police.

Perez detailed some preventive measures employed by her police division, such as collaborating with the Anti-Defamation League how to train officers to identify and address hate crimes.

Following Perez’s speech, Wong outlined the history and inner workings of her District Crisis Teams, formed in 1984, after a deranged sniper shot at 49th Street School children.

With only 307 police officers assigned to our city’s middle and high schools, Hayes stressed that teachers, parents and community alike “all have to partner” in reversing the trend of school violence.

Added Perez, “We must cancel the notion that violence is a socially-transmitted disease.”

Safety First?

On the first day of school, when Barbara Gindi escorted her children to Maimonides Academy, she was appalled by what she saw: Two security guards stood out front, a Sheriff’s squad car was parked at the curb, and the administrative staff was on high alert.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” Gindi says. “Is this what our world is coming to?”

The heightened security at Maimonides was one response to Buford O. Furrow’s Aug. 10 shooting attack at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills. Five people were wounded, including three preschoolers.

Gindi takes the changes at Maimonides in stride. She accepts the need for a security camera in the front office and the fact that preschoolers can no longer walk over to the school library. She also understands the cancellation of the annual trip to the beach to perform the Tashlich ritual.

“Unfortunately,” says Gindi, “these are the new realities. You don’t know who the enemy is.”

Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy has also instituted new safety regulations with the beginning of the fall semester. When the school day ends, youngsters must wait for their rides in the yard, not on the sidewalk, as they used to do. Older children are no longer free to walk home, unless they have a note from their parents. And the school has hired its first full-time security guard. He is uniformed but unarmed — to the dismay of one mother who argued strongly at a back-to-school parents meeting that a guard without a weapon could not sufficiently protect her children.

Heschel Day School in Northridge takes pride in being prepared for emergencies. In 1994, the campus survived the Northridge earthquake with little damage. Now, in the wake of nearby JCC shooting, it is beefing up an already tight security system: New additions will include an electronic gate and a videocamera to be posted at the entry to the school parking lot; one campus wall will be made higher; and, following discussions with security experts, the school’s board has just voted to hire an armed guard.

School director Shirley Levine insists that Heschel does not take such steps lightly. The new guard will be an off-duty police officer, and his weapon will not be visible. Still, Levine acknowledges the impossibility of keeping her school totally safe from intruders: “Even if you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, they can get in if they want to,” she says.

Jewish day schools and preschools across Los Angeles are working hard to make parents feel secure about their children’s safety. Many schools now require that cars be identified with special stickers, and that all visitors be screened by a receptionist.

At Temple Emanuel Day School, where entrance doors are now locked at the start of the school day, latecomers must be escorted by their parents through a security checkpoint. Fourth-grade teacher Gloria Kirschenbaum believes this policy can serve a dual purpose.

“We hope with all the inconvenience, it will discourage tardiness.”

The changes are part of a national trend. Jewish communities from New York to San Francisco have reassessed and, in most cases, beefed up security precautions at schools and institutions as a response to a wave of anti-Semitic violence this past summer.

Besides the JCC shootings, three Sacramento-area synagogues were firebombed in June, and Orthodox Jews were shot outside their synagogue in a Chicago suburb in July.

Despite the heightened concern for security, there has been opposition to some of the new procedures. At Beth Am’s Pressman Academy, a memo sent home at the start of the school year warned that “in order to keep hallways free of outsiders,” parents of students above kindergarten age could no longer walk their children to the doors of their classrooms. Two weeks into the semester, the edict was largely being ignored.

It remains to be seen how many of the stricter measures adopted in September will still be in place come May 2000, when parents might be feeling more relaxed about sending their children to identifiably Jewish places of learning.

One mother who never takes school safety for granted is Jayne Shapiro, chairman of the Los Angeles Task Force for Safe Schools. She is a staunch believer in security measures, however costly. “What works, do it. What keeps the kids safe, do it,” she says.

Shapiro’s acceptance of the need for armed guards and costly security devices at school sites disturbs Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills. Jacobs is no Pollyanna: His congregation’s preschool has changed its door-locking system and installed tinted windows so that passersby can’t spy on the youngsters from the street. But he is strongly opposed to armed guards, and he dislikes the whole “bunker mentality” that views the whole world as out to get the Jews. In today’s America, insists Jacobs, “I don’t think that, by and large, we’re as vulnerable as we are led to believe.”

Shapiro, though, sees areas of vulnerability. When she passes Milken Community High School on the freeway, she feels ambivalent about the flag of Israel that flutters over the campus. “It frightens me,” she says. “I don’t think it should be hanging in front of an institution for kids. It’s an easy target.”

In response, Milken Head of School Dr. Rennie Wrubel says: “I really am honored to be the leader of an institution that flies the Israeli flag with pride. I’m also honored to be an American because I know that my dignity is preserved and protected as a Jew.”

Though Milken has reassessed its security plans, the flag will stay. “I wouldn’t want to be part of an institution that took down the flag because of some lunatic,” she says. “I don’t want to live in fear. My grandparents did that enough.”

Jewish schools’ new security procedures are chiefly designed to keep intruders at bay. Most day-school students themselves are reportedly unfazed by the safety concerns that haunt their parents. On the first day of the semester, Shalhevet High School’s brand-new campus boasted a guard at the parking lot gate, and many security procedures were in the works. But students were flowing happily between the two campus buildings as they greeted their friends and chatted about the year ahead.

Says Beatrice Levavi, who’s both a Shalhevet parent and the school administrative assistant, “Teen-agers have no sense of their own mortality.”

When Tragedy Strikes…

For Lois Weinsaft, the Aug. 10 shooting spree at the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC) hit close to home. Too close.

After all, Weinsaft’s own daughter, Becky, literally grew up with the Valley Centers.

“Becky called me and said, ‘That could have been me as a camper, that could have been me as a counselor,’ says Weinsaft, Senior Associate Director of Planning and Allocations at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “This is really close to home for a family like ours.”

From the onset, Weinsaft and Federation staff closely monitored the unfolding situation. Within minutes after Nazi sympathizer Buford O. Furrows opened fire on the Granada Hills day care facility, Weinsaft stepped out of her office to find her colleagues — including Federation President John Fishel and Director of Marketing and Communications Joyce Sand — already huddled around a television set.

Sand recalls the surreal experience, as details trickled in both internally and across the airwaves.

“Jack Klein [the Federation’s associate executive vice president of operations] immediately deployed our security people out to the site to essentially help the police,” recalls Sand. “So within a matter of minutes, people were being deployed.”

Those people included Nina Lieberman-Giladi, associate executive vice president of Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles, who drove out to the Episcopal church that doubled as the children’s safehaven; and Miriam Prum-Hess, senior associate director of Planning and Allocations at the Federation, who, with Sandra King, director of Jewish Family Service (JFS), and Weinsaft, visited hospitals treating the shooting victims.

“Our primary concern was the safety of the kids, then the notification of the family,” says Weinsaft.

However, eliciting precise information on the JCC day campers’ whereabouts during the incident became a complicated process.

“They had evacuated some of the kids to the park, some to the church next door,” says Weinsaft. “The records were inside in the beginning and, of course, the police wouldn’t let people in.” Furthermore, most NVJCC kids were out on field trips that morning, visiting destinations that, ironically, included the Museum of Tolerance.

Jan Ballin, director of the San Fernando Valley Adult and Children’s Counseling, and Dorie Gradwohl, director of the Valley Storefront, were both immediately dispatched to the scene. However, once they arrived, Weinsaft says that “they couldn’t get past police lines. They had to come back.” JFS workers returned to the center later in the day, where they met with Department of Mental Health officials (the two agencies have been working together ever since on countering the trauma created by the attempted massacre).

Sally Weber, director of Jewish Community Programs at the Federation-affilliated JFS, has been instrumental in managing crisis counseling groups at NVJCC. In the days since the incident, she has witnessed firsthand the post-traumatic stress.

“One little boy was worried about the bad man and the bad man returning,” says Weber.

The shooting not only impacted the young ones, but their families and counselors. And for some, the press camped outside the center following the shooting only exacerbated the atmosphere of unrest.

“Some parents were very angry,” says Weber. “Everytime they come through, they’re being grabbed.”

It became so intrusive that Jeffrey Rouss, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles, banned reporters from the premises and provided parents with instructions on dealing with the media.

Telephoning from the NVJCC, Weber told the Journal that “Friday was probably the hardest day because everybody’s adrenaline just crashed. People who had been strong [during the crisis], it finally hit them at the end of the week. It was good that they had the weekend to go home. [By Monday] the mood at the center [was] generally very upbeat. Even if they were frightened to walk in, they’re certainly happy to be here. Lots of hugging. Some crying. A lot of parents are hanging around all day.”

Fishel promises that “the Federation will continue to work closely into assuring that people that are deeply impacted will get what they need.” Among concerns currently being discussed: short term and long term security for Jewish centers and schools.

“I think there was a great deal of conflict as to whether security will isolate us from the broader community,” says Fishel. “On the other hand, as we approach the opening of schools and the High Holidays, we are going to go out there and address those issues.”

Weinsaft is proud of the way everyone handled the situation.

“The fact that [all agencies] were all together…,” says Weinsaft, “was the best demonstration for the need for a central community organization.” She adds that, on the day of the shooting, the Federation was flooded with calls from people nationwide expressing sympathy and a desire to help. And as late as Tuesday — a week after the incident –support continued to flow into the NVJCC in the form of banners, food from churches, even cookies from the policemen’s wives.

Weber is encouraged by this profound outpouring by wellwishers, which spans well beyond the Jewish community.

“The effect is that of, what [Furrow] did, he did to all of us and we’re not going to let him win,” says Weber. “I feel hopeful about that.”
More News:

Following the North Valley JCC shooting, meetings, a Sunday rally and expressions of support help the community heal.
How the Jewish Federation responded as the North Valley shooting unfolded.
At synagogues throughout L.A., a Sabbath of prayer and support;
1,000 people gathered at the Unity Rally held Sunday, Aug. 15, at Cal State Northridge
Assessing the real danger.
Commander David Kalish; Paramedic Todd Carb.
Editor’s Corner–Rob Eshman, Managing Editor: Reaction and Overreaction.
Commentary–Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson:On Being Targeted.

Rabbis Respond with Concern

Shoshana, a preschool teacher at the North Valley JCC, looked down a hallway into the barrel of Buford Furrow’s submachine gun. She had dodged a hail of bullets to duck into her classroom and safely usher out the 4- and 5-year-old preschoolers under her care.

Now, it was time to bench gomel, to recite the blessing thanking God after narrowly escaping with one’s life.

Like so many others, Shoshana (last name withheld upon request) turned to her synagogue, to her rabbi and community, to find solace and strength in the aftermath of last Tuesday’s shooting at the North Valley Jewish Community Center.

At Shoshana’s shul, Chabad of Northridge, and at synagogues across the North Valley and across Los Angeles, services last week were packed.

“I was asked repeatedly by the media if we intended to do anything special at our service, and our response was yes, the same special thing we do every Shabbat — come together for prayer and mutual support and community, to be restored by Shabbat and what the service and being with family always brings us,” said Rabbi Jerald Brown of Ahavat Shalom in Northridge, about two miles from the scene.

Among his 1,000 worshipers at the healing service Friday night were Mindy Finkelstein, the 16-year-old counselor who was shot in the leg, and the family of Joshua Stepakoff, six, one of the little boys shot.

They, along with police officers and politicians, joined congregants in an open discussion, giving expression to both the outrage and thanksgiving that welled up in the Jewish community last week.

Such discussions were taking place at synagogues across California, where even rabbis who never talk about politics or current events broke that rule this Shabbat.

But even with discussion of violent hate groups, and even with increased security at nearly every synagogue in Los Angeles, feelings of solidarity overwhelmed those of fear.

“There was such a feeling that we needed to be together,” says Rabbi Steven Tucker, whose Ramat Zion is about 1.5 miles from the JCC. “We started by holding hands and singing ‘Hinei Mah Tov’ and what a wonderful feeling that was.”

Tucker was among the dozens of rabbis mobilized as soon as the news broke last week.

Calls went out from the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, an affiliate agency of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, pulling rabbis out of committee meetings and bar mitzvah lessons, sending them to hospitals and other sites.

At Ahavat Shalom, Brown was on the way to a funeral when he heard. He dispatched his associate, Rabbi Debbi Till, to the JCC and then to the hospital, where one of his members was injured. Rabbi Barry Lutz stayed at the synagogue to deal with clearing out their own preschool and to field phone calls from distraught members, many of them JCC parents. A staff member placed a call to the JCC offices to offer help.

Tucker, who also went to area hospitals on Tuesday and to the JCC later in the week, deliberately stayed away from the site as the crisis was occurring. Like many other rabbis, he assumed that the last thing emergency personnel needed was more people to handle.

One rabbi whose presence was requested at the crime scene was Rabbi Lawrence Goldmark, interim executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, who arrived in the afternoon with other Jewish Federation officials.

He gave comfort to many parents and campers on site, counseled eyewitnesses, and opened the press conference with a prayer. Goldmark also attended the funeral of postal worker Joseph Ileto.

Rabbi E. Robert Kraus’s Temple Beth Torah, which is housed in the church right next door to NVJCC, received 150 emails of support from news watchers across the country, which he printed out and delivered to the JCC.

Around the city, preschoolers put crayon to construction paper to send words of support. Some shuls sent flowers to the JCC, some sent food, and many rabbis showed up at Friday afternoon’s Kabbalat Shabbat service at the JCC.

Nina Giladi, associate executive vice president of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles, says the staff and children appreciate every card, poster and care package that comes in, that the string of storytellers, songleaders and dance teachers have done much for the center’s spirit.

“When my staff hears somebody say, ‘Wow, you did an amazing job, you were unbelievable the way you took care of the children at such a critical time,’ nothing means more than that,” she said.

More News:

Following the North Valley JCC shooting, meetings, a Sunday rally and expressions of support help the community heal.

How the Jewish Federation responded as the North Valley shooting unfolded.

1,000 people gathered at the Unity Rally held Sunday, Aug. 15, at Cal State Northridge.

Assessing the real danger.

Commander David Kalish; Paramedic Todd Carb.

Editor’s Corner–Rob Eshman, Managing Editor: Reaction and Overreaction.

Commentary–Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson:On Being Targeted.