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 present 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.
Rebecca Anne Saltzman serves as a senior vice president at B'nai B'rith International and as chair of the Disaster and Emergency Relief Committee. Saltzman also sits on the Executive Board of Directors, has served as the marketing chair and is past chair of the Young Leadership Network (now called B’nai B’rith Connect). In 2012, Saltzman earned the Label A. Katz award, an honor for individuals under 45 who have demonstrated outstanding service to the totality of B’nai B’rith and have worked to achieve the goals of the B’nai B’rith Young Leadership program.
Photos from the Disaster Relief Check Presentation to the Pittsburgh Healing Fund:
Artwork from the Tree of Life Synagogue:
As my friends and family are aware, I am an avid sports fan. I can speak fluently about the teams I root for and the great sports moments I have witnessed. Whether it’s going to the World Series with my father at Yankee Stadium or watching football with friends, I sometimes feel like I am an encyclopedia of sports knowledge. That is why I was recently excited to learn about the National Senior Games. The National Senior Games are a sports competition for people 50 and older. Like the Olympics, various athletic contests are conducted, ranging from swimming, basketball, bowling, archery, badminton, cycling, golf, horseshoes, pickleball, softball, track and field, etc. The games first started in 1987 in St. Louis, Missouri, with 2,500 people competing. Since then, the games have been held every other year, most recently in 2019, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where over 13,000 people competed.
Throughout the history of the games, competition amongst aging Americans have brought us success stories that have been both heartwarming and remarkable. One of the greatest athletic achievements during the games’ history belongs to Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins. Hawkins, at the ages of 101 and 103, competed in the 100 meter dash. She finished in 39.62 seconds at 101, and 6 seconds slower at 103. To put this feat into perspective, 100 meters is 109 yards, which is longer than a football field. While sports conversations have produced great debate amongst friends and colleagues, I think we can all agree at 103, her increase in time is understandable. In order to stay in shape Hawkins trains on the street by her house. However, as she told the New York Times, by her own admission, “As I get older, I feel like I only have so many 100-yard dashes left, and I don’t want to waste them in practice.” Amazingly, she only got into running at age 100, because she previously participated at the games as a competitive biker. Sports have always provided a great outlet for individual accomplishments, I think it’s fair to say none more so than Hawkins’ participation at the National Senior Games.
The National Senior Games also provides a venue for rivalries to be renewed. In the 1970s, Bob Shannon and Jeff Johanson, both swam for competing high schools in the San Francisco area. They would compete against each other in medleys and relays and eventually at the College of San Mateo, where both were teammates on the water polo team. As luck would have it, they ran into and competed against each other at the last National Senior Games. According to the National Senior Games Association, Shannon said, “Besides going for my personal best, I’m now thinking, ‘It’s on!’ There’s no way he’s beating me in the 50 backstroke, and I knew he was thinking he would beat me in the breaststroke.” As it turns out, Bob beat Jeff in the backstroke and Jeff bested Bob in the breaststroke. Both also left the games with some additional accomplishments. Bob beat his swim time from high school, and Jeff won the silver medal in the 200 yard breaststroke.
The National Senior Games has provided countless more inspirational stories. Older Americans participating in these competitions have used sports as a motivational vehicle to rebound from injuries, mourn the loss of a loved one or provide an outlet for a passion project during retirement. Fortunately, America is taking notice with ESPN, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and CNN all having covered the games.
While writing the article, I couldn’t help but notice that softball was on their list of participating sports. As someone who plays softball throughout the spring and summer, I can’t help but wonder if I might be fortunate enough to play in the National Senior Games down the road. While I don’t think my athletic feats will ever rise to the level of Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins, I wouldn’t mind trying my luck someday!
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Legislative Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
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