Nearly a month after the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, a sense of normality is setting in at the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh as aerobics classes and after-school programs continue. But for employees there, the ones who have been working hard to get the community back on its feet in the face of tragedy, it’s time for a vacation.
The JCC Association is sending JCC staff from across the country to relieve the Pittsburgh center staff, allowing employees to take a long weekend away from work after a busy and emotional month. The effort is part of the JCCA’s JResponse program, a program originally designed to assist JCCs in North America in the wake of natural disasters. The first group, from the JCC in Youngstown, Ohio, arrived on Friday to substitute for lifeguards, receptionists and security staff, with more groups set to rotate in through the end of the year.
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to provide our staff some respite, if not a full day off then a longer lunch hour, an opportunity to run errands, a chance to connect with other staff members,” said Brian Schreiber, president and CEO of the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh. “Just the idea of support, that we’re not in this alone.”
On the day of the shooting in Pittsburgh, the JCC became the gathering place for the families of the victims and wounded, law enforcement and Jewish communal organizations as information came in about the attack.
“The JCC was the crisis center,” said Ellen Gettinger, professional development coordinator at JCCA, who supported this week’s JResponse team on the ground in Pittsburgh. “So when everything was happening, this was the place that everybody congregated. So for a while, it was all hands on deck.” A Pittsburgh native herself, Gettinger jumped at the opportunity to help out in her hometown. “It means something else that I get to come here and help in a special way,” she said.
Sarah Wioschek, the community development manager at the Youngstown JCC, came in on Monday to fill in for the receptionist for the day. “It’s a duty and a privilege to be able to go and offer support and deploy our staff quickly to help our colleagues and communities that we have very close ties with,” said Wioschek.
The JCCA currently has a few dozen JCC staffers from across the country who have volunteered for the program, but JCCA CEO Doron Krakow hopes it will grow. “We have 6,000 skilled professionals across the continent who are dedicated to doing community service for the goal of strengthening Jewish life in their communities,” said Krakow. “If we could mobilize those people to pitch in for one another when the going gets tough, that would represent our unique added value to the field.”
The project was created in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated the Houston Jewish community in August 2017. The JCCA quickly mobilized with a fundraising campaign, but Krakow wondered if there was a better way to deploy the organization’s resources.
Though originally intended as a response to natural disasters, after the shooting in Pittsburgh, Krakow realized that the program could be used in other situations. “If there is a wellspring of skill and talent and wherewithal and capacity to respond to any crisis, we’re the biggest well that there is.”