Andrew Katz of the Schenectady Jewish Community Center knew he would help.
Directors and staffers from Jewish community centers around the country have been traveling to Pittsburgh to assist workers at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh crew has been working long shifts since Oct. 27, the day a man armed with an assault rifle and handguns opened fire inside the city’s Tree of Life Congregation. Eleven congregants were killed; six others were wounded.
The rampage was described as among the deadliest against the Jewish community in the United States.
The Pittsburgh JCC at Squirrel Hill has become a center for victim support, and many staffers have been unable to take time off. Katz, the interim executive director of the Jewish Community Center on Balltown Road, said the JCC Association of North America recently formed the “JResponse” team — a group of professionals from across the United States that provides assistance to any JCC in crisis.
“We anticipated JResponse deployments taking place in the aftermath of storms, mudslides or other natural disasters,” wrote Doron Krakow, president and CEO of the JCC Association of North America, in a letter to JCC executives. “No one expected that it would be needed in the wake of a massacre of Jews perpetrated by a murderous anti-Semite bent on slaughter.”
Since mid-November, JCC volunteers have worked Monday and Friday shifts to provide some relief for their Pittsburgh counterparts. The project will end Dec. 24.
Katz spent Dec. 10 in Pittsburgh.
“I felt it was the right thing to do,” he said. “I’ve been the interim director for three months, I pride myself on treating people the way I’d like to be treated. It’s the belief that if we were ever in that situation, we would appreciate the help. So being there for someone else is important.”
Seven other JCC staff members were on Katz’s detail that day. The visitors toured the building, heard from executive members and then were given assignments.
“I worked with the folks in the teen department,” Katz said. “What I did was a lot, I would say, of mundane work. I ground 5 pounds of coffee, I set up for events, I put out snacks — a lot of things that aren’t overly exciting.”
There were no emotional events or conversations. The main plan was to let someone else get away from a steady stream of work.
“The people haven’t had time to take off,” Katz said. “They’re feeling overwhelmed and this is the opportunity for them to either get additional support for work they’re not doing or possibly take an extra long lunch period.”
Katz knows a crisis can happen anywhere, anyplace.
“We do a great job offering wonderful programming here,” he said. “This is a time when people would be counting on the JCC to really be there for their comfort and support. We need to be prepared as an organization at any moment to provide that as well.”
Katz had a chance to visit the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, where Tree of Life is located. In many businesses, he saw signs that read “No Place For Hate.”
Other signs contain a modified “steelmark,” the three-star emblem first used by the U.S. Steel industry but is now better known as the logo for the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers. The top star has been replaced by Star of David; the words “Stronger than Hate” accompany the emblem.
“I found a sense of unity,” Katz said.
While he only spent a short time in Pittsburgh, Katz believes the hours were well-invested.
“Hearing their ‘Thank yous’ and their appreciation made me feel I was doing something valuable,” Katz said.
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected].
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