Responding to Tragedy in Pittsburgh

Dear Schechter Manhattan Community,

The tragic shooting in the Tree of Life Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh on shabbat morning is incomprehensible.  How do we understand a society in which worshippers at prayer are the victims of senseless violence? How do we respond to the unimaginable? So sadly, we have grappled with similar questions many times in the last few years as we heard news of other deadly shootings.  To our Jewish community, this tragedy feels even closer to home, and we are forced to face a threat of anti-semitism. How do we react to those who hate us for the very fact of being who we are? While I don’t presume to have answers to all of these questions, as a Schechter Manhattan community we will move forward together, supporting each other in the days and weeks to come.

First, we are making sure we are all safe.  At Schechter Manhattan, our students’ safety at school is our highest priority.  We follow the guidance of security experts to review and maintain the security of the school building.  We work closely with our security firm, Security USA, to revise and update security systems and protocols on a regular basis and we have a good relationship with the NYPD, with the 24th precinct being only a short block away.  We also consult with a protective security adviser from the United States Department of Homeland Security, who has visited Schechter Manhattan, reviewed all of our emergency protocols, and told us that we have appropriate security measures in place to keep our school safe.  We remain diligent about the upkeep and practice of those systems and have reviewed all of them with the school faculty and staff. As part of our safety plan, we run 12 safety drills over the course of each school year, including lockdown drills, which are designed for active shooter scenarios.

Since yesterday, we have communicated with security experts, who indicated that the NYPD, the DHS and the FBI have all reported no credible, direct threat to New York or the broader Jewish community.   Our partnership with law enforcement and vigilant implementation of our security systems allow us to feel safe as we all prepare to come to school tomorrow morning.

Our students’ emotional safety also needs support.  News of shootings is scary for all of us, and anti-semitism is especially frightening to our Jewish community. Facing our fragility and mortality is challenging for adults and can be even harder for children.  One way we can help students when they confront events that make them feel unsafe is to be ready to talk with children about the sad events. Offering our children a calm and caring space to ask questions and talk about how they feel can help them build coping skills that will serve them well in the future.  In school tomorrow morning, our Middle School (grades 6-8) students will gather in their advisory groups and students in grades 3-5 will gather in their classes to share their feelings and ask questions, facilitated by our caring faculty. These meetings will also be an opportunity for students to learn the facts about what happened and the steps we take to stay safe at school and in our NYC community.  While we won’t be bringing up the shooting in youngest grades (k-2), our teachers are ready to respond with an open ear to students who want to talk. I expect that, like me, many Schechter Manhattan parents have been talking with their children about the shooting and its aftermath. Click here for resources with suggestions for ways to talk with your children about scary news and anti-semitism.

Another way we support each other after a tragedy is by gathering in community.  In school, the Middle School minyan tomorrow morning will include special recitation of tehillim, Psalms, in memory of those who were killed.  This evening, Sunday, October 28, at 6:30pm, many West Side Jewish communities will gather at Ansche Chesed (251 West 100th Street) for a vigil and memorial.  All are invited to join for prayer and words of solidarity and comfort.

We pray for the families whose loved ones were taken.  We offer our expression of comfort to the Pittsburgh Jewish community.  We pray that a time will come soon when love will conquer hate and we will no longer need to worry about keeping ourselves and our children safe from violence.


Benjamin Mann

Head of School


Julie Sissman

President, Board of Trustees