A Year After Pittsburgh, What’s Different?

Security at Twin Cities Jewish institutions may not look markedly different at the one-year anniversary of the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh. But what is different is the community vigilance around Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“The JCRC has worked effectively to establish a strong foundation of security and preparedness for Jewish people in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota through its community security program. Following the horrific act of violence in Pittsburgh, there is a greater sense of vigilance amongst Jewish community members and professional staff,” said Anthony Sussman, the director of communications and community security at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. “A community-wide and standardized approach to security, implemented with respect for civil rights, enhances safety and preparedness.”

In preparation for the High Holidays which just finished – the time where synagogue attendance is at its peak – Dan Plekkenpol, the JCRC’s director of community security, conducted more than 30 security assessments to see what organizations are doing well and what can be done to increase security.

Sussman said that the JCRC focused on community security before the Tree of Life shooting; 20 years of shootings and bomb threats towards Jewish communal institutions have made that a reality. Sussman said that since 2007, the JCRC has assisted Jewish and non-Jewish organizations in securing state and federal funds through the Non-Profit Security Grant Program.

In early reports after the holidays, it seems like the organizations did what they should.

“Dan Plekkenpol has made an important impact on the community through trainings, assessments, and new communication tools,” Sussman said. “Security measures are in a state of constant evolution. The JCRC has helped build a solid foundation of security in this community and Dan and the staff continue to research the most current and effective tools and trainings to prepare our community.”

The anniversary of Pittsburgh comes as the American Jewish Committee released its 2019 Survey of American Jewish Attitudes About Antisemitism, which found that 88 percent think anti-Semitism is a problem, and 84 percent say that anti-Semitism has increased in the last five years.

Avi Mayer, the AJC’s managing director for global communications, wrote in an op-ed in USA Today that the “alarming findings should serve as a wakeup call – and a call to action.”

“One year ago, some may have questioned the need for such a study, regarding antisemitism as largely a thing of the past or a problem confined to fringe groups or other continents,” Mayer wrote. “Today, however, after the deadly attack in Pittsburgh and another at a synagogue in Poway, California, and as anti-Jewish hate surges among both the far right and the hard left, this survey could hardly be more necessary or timely.”

However, of the 1,283 people who responded to the survey, the vast majority said they had not been a target of an anti-Semitic physical act, or remark in-person, online, by mail or phone.

“It’s good news, and a relief, that Jews aren’t constantly suffering from attacks, but it’s also an opportunity to talk about what else might be driving that fear and who benefits from that fear,” said Carin Mrotz, executive director of Jewish Community Action. “If our fear is out of proportion to reality, we have an opening talk about how our responses to that fear match up with real needs for safety and what safety might look like.”

This weekend, to honor the one-year anniversary of the Pittsburgh shootings the AJC is encouraging people to go to synagogue as part of the #showupforshabbat campaign, which is similar to Chabad’s #shareshabbat which started following the shooting at the Chabad in Poway, Calif., this past spring. There is also a digital campaign sponsored by Jewish Federations of North America. At 4 p.m. CDT on Sunday, people from around the world will have the opportunity to join Pittsburgh in a public memorial service.

Locally, Jewish Community Action and National Council of Jewish Women Minnesota, will be hosting an event at Darchei Noam in St. Louis Park on Sunday at 3:45 p.m. Mrotz, NCJW Minnesota Executive Director Beth Gendler, Attorney General Keith Ellison and Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations, are confirmed to be speaking.

“It feels especially important for JCA and NCJW Minnesota to commemorate this because Tree of Life was targeted for doing work in religious justice,” Mrotz said. “The best way to honor is to recommit to the work. We won’t be intimidated away from our commitment to justice.”

On Nov. 13, the JCRC, TC Jewfolk, Minnesota Hillel, and the University of Minnesota Hubbard School of Journalism & Mass Communications is hosting “Covering a Mass Shooting: A Case Study From Pittsburgh.” Journalist Shira Hanau of the New York Jewish Week, who covered the event closely, will be there to discuss her experience reporting for a national audience on one of the most significant events in American Jewish history and about what it means to be a young reporter in 2019.

“While the loss of the 11 victims on Oct. 27 was at its heart a tragedy for their families and communities, the meaning of what happened in Pittsburgh goes far beyond Pittsburgh,” Hanau said. “We have to try and understand what this event means for us as a wider American Jewish community – including the difficult parts that show that we may not actually be one community after all.”

Lev Gringauz contributed to this article.