As you may have already heard, a tragic situation unfolded during worship this morning at a Conservative synagogue in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill. According to current reports, an armed assailant entered the Tree of Life synagogue during services. There are a number of casualties. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We are grateful to law enforcement who were on the scene within minutes. The news is shocking and is a reminder of the need for us to be as cautious as possible.
Over the past few years we have taken steps to better secure our building but, in light of today’s attack, will be taking additional steps.
We are writing to you this afternoon to share those steps with you.
Steps Previously Taken:
We have replaced many of the doors and windows including our lobbies outside both sanctuaries and off Scotland Road with secured hardened versions.
Our alarm and door security has been updated to the levels recommended by authorities.
Well-trained, plainclothes professional security is present during worship and whenever religious school is in session. They spend their time at the doors during high periods of people entering and walk through the building during times of relative quiet.
We consult with security experts on a regular basis and have shaped our approach based on their recommendations.
Our schools perform regular lockdown drills.
All security, staff, and volunteer leaders understand that no one may be allowed in the building until they have identified themselves through a locked door.
We work hand-in-hand with the South Orange Police Department and we are grateful to them for the care and attention they pay to our security. As soon as we saw news of today’s attack we were in touch with them and they immediately increased their presence on our property for this morning’s services. (They are already a presence there on a regular basis.)
We are reiterating to all staff and volunteer leaders that no one may be admitted until they identify themselves after buzzing from outside.
We are exploring the possibility of additional times when professional security is present.
We will be holding additional lockdown drills this week so students and teachers are well-versed in how to quickly secure classrooms in the event of an emergency.
We are evaluating which doors are used at any given time during the week since using fewer doors means a greater degree of security for all.
While we are committed to continuing to be a welcoming synagogue, we are also committed to doing everything possible to ensure the safety and security of everyone who enters our buildings. In the coming days additional steps will be taken. This may mean that, at times, it takes a few additional moments to get into the building. Please know this is only being done to make our community as safe as possible. We appreciate your patience and understanding.
We know that tragic events such as this are disturbing. We have, and will continue, to take steps toward making our building as secure as possible so that we can continue to focus on building our sacred community.
Finally, we know that horrific events such as this are beyond troubling. Please know that our entire clergy and staff are here to talk, answer questions or simply spend time if you need us.
Rabbi Daniel Cohen, Max Weisenfeld, President, Leslie Sporn, TSTI Executive Director