On Dec. 6, 2019, B’nai B’rith Senior Vice President and Disaster and Emergency Relief Committee Chair Rebecca Saltzman travelled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to meet with staff from the Jewish Family and Community Services of Pittsburgh (JFCS) and presented a check for $25,600 to aid mental health programming for survivors of the horrific attack on Oct. 27, 2018, at the Tree of Life Synagogue that left 11 worshippers dead and wounded many more. Funds will also be used to assist first responders and support a community memorial.
Saltzman was joined by Executive Board of Directors member and Pittsburgh native Steve Smiga, who serves as regional president, and B’nai B’rith members from the Aaron Grossman Lodge of the Allegheny Ohio Valley region.
Staff members from JFCS and representatives of the Fraternal Order of Police Benevolent Fund received the check. Jordan Golin, president and CEO; Dana Gold, COO; Stefanie Small, director of clinical services; and Rebecca Remson, director of development and communications, were present. Jonathan Gromek and Susan Hillen, the president and vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police Benevolent Fund, also attended.
This is Saltzman’s account of B’nai B’rith’s disaster relief efforts in the wake of the mass shootings and her involvement meeting first responders and community service personnel in Pittsburgh.
It’s one of those horrific events where you always remember where you were when you learned about it.
On Oct. 27, 2018, I was at the gym, just starting up the treadmill. I looked up at the televisions overhead to see the headlines about a synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. As I began walking slowly, I started to feel panic and wasn’t sure if I should stop and get off. Instead I began to run, and I ran hard. Growing up and living in Centennial, Colorado, I wasn’t a stranger to nearby tragedies. I was a sophomore sitting in class at the neighboring school next to Columbine High School when the catalyst of mass school shootings took place. I saw a movie at the Aurora movie theater in 2012 just two nights before yet another tragic mass shooting. But the synagogue attack was different. Though further away, this hit closer to home, closer to my heart.
Just a few weeks earlier, I had been installed as one of B’nai B’rith International’s senior vice presidents and appointed as chair of our Disaster and Emergency Relief Committee. Helping others after a disaster is a core commitment of an organization that I am so dedicated to and so very proud of. Since 1865, B'nai B'rith has responded with millions of dollars of needed assistance to help the victims of hundreds of disasters – both natural and man-made – around the world.
In the immediate aftermath of the Tree of Life attack – which marked the single deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history – B’nai B’rith set to work doing what it always does: helping. We launched a campaign to assist the victims, synagogue and community.
Six months later, there was another tragic attack on a Chabad synagogue in Poway, California. I realized then that we, as a people, are under attack again. And that is why organizations like B’nai B’rith are so important. Through 176 years of service, B’nai B’rith has played a vital role. Making the world a safer, more tolerant and better place is the mission that still drives our organization. We monitor and combat anti-Semitism and other global human rights abuses. Through our office of intercommunal affairs, we play an active role cultivating religious tolerance and cooperation internationally.
As I presented the donation to local community members and first responders in December, a year after the deadly gun rampage, I asked them to accept the contribution as a token of our support for continued healing, as we stand together, strong as one, and fight against hatred – because when we say never again, we mean never again. It was humbling to meet first responders and tell them how grateful I was that they came to help defend our people that terrible day.
As a licensed professional counselor who has worked for over a decade in community mental health, it is personally meaningful to me to present a donation that will go toward mental health support for survivors and a program to assist first responders. In choosing where to offer aid, our Disaster Relief Committee wanted to focus on the mental health needs of the community, which often don’t show up right away. Psychological symptoms of trauma may start months, sometimes years after a traumatic event. These symptoms can cause significant problems in social or work situations and in relationships.
The donation B’nai B’rith made will also support a memorial that will remember the victims of the attack that Shabbat morning, from Tree of Life Or L’Simcha, Dor Hadash and New Light Congregation.
When I was in Pittsburgh, I walked around the Tree of Life Synagogue and I saw impressive artwork created by young people, wrapped around the fencing surrounding the building – what a beautiful response of love and healing to contrast the horrors that occurred on that site.
Photos from Disaster Relief Check Presentation to the Pittsburgh Healing Fund:
Artwork from the Tree of Life Synagogue:
B'nai B'rith International has served as the Global Voice of the Jewish Community since 1843.