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Jewish community prepares for first High Holy Days since tragedy in Pittsburgh

Members of Jewish community discuss security concerns, solidarity

By
Metro Editor
Friday, September 27, 2019

Members of the Providence Jewish community are preparing for their first High Holy Days since a shooter tore through the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last October.

In the months following the attack that killed 11 and injured seven, local synagogues and other Jewish groups ramped up security in Providence and throughout the nation. The High Holy Days — including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which fall in October — tend to be the most important time of year for practicing Jews. Though many members of the Providence Jewish community say they feel on edge as the holidays approach, local leaders are confident in their preparedness and focused on maintaining positivity.

“Like every community in America today, we are sensitive to security concerns,” wrote Rabbi Joshua Bolton, executive director of Brown/RISD Hillel, in an email to The Herald. “We are also living through a period that has witnessed a dramatic increase in antisemitism.” Bolton added that Hillel is making efforts to ensure that the space is safe and that staff and students are trained in the case of a crisis.

“It’s important to me that we’re safe, but it’s also important that it doesn’t feel scary and it doesn’t feel like this big thing,” said Claire Miller ’21, president of Brown/RISD Hillel. “Hillel is really a home for many of us, and it’s important that it feels like that, in addition to being safe.”

Temple Emanu-El, which is located near Brown Stadium, started locking their facilities after the tragedy in Pittsburgh, and has since held security training for all ushers and greeters working during the holidays. “Since Pittsburgh we have increased police detail every Shabbat,” said Paul Stouber, executive director of Temple Emanu-El.  The temple is not drastically increasing security for the High Holy Days because of this year-long increase in security infrastructure, Stouber added.

For many Jewish communities in Providence, police presence is a standard part of the High Holy Days. “The Jewish community for years now has always had police presence on the High Holy Days,” said Wendy L. Joering, director of membership and community engagement for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. But Joering has noticed a different mentality among Jewish Rhode Islanders this year. “There are people that are more aware, ask more questions and are a little more concerned about safety,” she said.

“The nice thing is we have strong relationships with local law enforcement,” said Adam Greenman, president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. Greenman also cited frequent communication “not just within our community, but with other faith communities that helps to make sure everyone feels comfortable.”

Despite the tragic events of last year and the need for vigilance, leaders throughout Providence’s Jewish community say that positivity and solidarity are more important than fear.

“Brown RISD/Hillel is a place where every student, regardless of background, will feel welcomed and safe,” Bolton wrote.

“When a community is attacked nationally, it affects our local community,” Greenman said, describing the flood of calls he received from leaders of all faiths throughout Rhode Island after the attack in Pittsburgh. “The beauty here in Rhode Island is these relationships don’t just form when we are thrust into crisis. We’re really lucky to live in a state where that support is constant.”

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