More than 300 people, including law enforcement officials, dignitaries and Jewish community leaders, headed to Politz Hebrew Academy on Nov. 7 for a town hall discussion on safety and security.
A similar event was held three years ago, said David Kushner, a Philadelphia Police Department chaplain who organized the event. The 7th District police captain at the time was new and had asked Kushner to put on a security event where he could connect with the Jewish community.
In the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting, Kushner felt it was time to hold a security event again.
“It happened right here in our very own commonwealth,” Kushner said. “Pittsburgh is an everyday, regular community, and if it could happen there, it could just as easily happen here. The goal of this was to walk away as a unified and proactive community, to strengthen the levels of our own security and safety within our own community.”
The 7th district is the most heavily concentrated Jewish district in Philadelphia, with multiple synagogues, Politz Hebrew Academy, KleinLife and the House of Kosher supermarket, Kushner said.
The event began with a memorial tribute to the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting. Several rabbis read Psalms, and a cantor recited the prayer for the soul of the departed. Councilman at-large Allan Domb recited the Mourner’s Kaddish.
Different people from a wide range of organizations then spoke, including representatives from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the Anti-Defamation League, the Office of the Attorney General and others.
The event concluded with a question-and-answers session.
“One of the major points that needs to be reinforced over and over again, which was stressed by everybody that spoke, is the need for a strong working relationship and a mutual understanding,” Kushner said. “It’s important for elected officials and law enforcement to understand our community and some of our unique needs, and it’s also important for the community to understand the role that elected officials and law enforcement can play in helping to increase the levels of safety and security within the community.”
Kushner said the event provided an opportunity for community organizations to speak one-on-one with law enforcement.
“It was a very nice turnout,” Kushner said. “It was a nice show of support from law enforcement. They were all incredibly proactive, especially in light of the incident in Pittsburgh.”
Seventh District Police Capt. Robert Ritchie attended and said he was struck by how the Pittsburgh shooting brought deeply rooted fear to the forefront.
He has had a strong relationship with the Jewish community for a while, he said, especially since the slew of threatening telephone calls made to Jewish organizations last year. After the Pittsburgh shooting, the relationship helped him provide police protection to synagogues and other Jewish organizations to prevent another tragedy and allay fears.
Moving forward, he said he intends to work with others to provide vulnerability assessments and active shooter training to Jewish organizations in the 7th District. Many of these organizations are taking their own measures to secure their facilities as well, he said.
“This is a key element to our partnership — working together to secure all facilities, and familiarizing everyone through training and education,” Ritchie said. “Together, we will better ensure the safety of all members of our community.”
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