The mass shooting last month that left 11 people dead at a Pittsburgh synagogue — an attack considered the deadliest assault on Jews in the country’s history — has prompted Long Island Jews to try to raise $1 million to protect dozens of their religious centers.
Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island plans to launch a 48-hour emergency fundraising campaign Wednesday to help fortify as many as 32 of its centers in Nassau and Suffolk with guards and other security measures. While the campaign officially launches at noon, donations have already come in through the website charidy.com/SaferLI.
“We all felt that the time was right and the energy in the community was there because of what happened in Pittsburgh,” said Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, director of Commack-based Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island. “We all have friends in Pittsburgh or know people who know people who, unfortunately, were killed.”
The money is designed to pay for security upgrades for three years, said Teldon, fresh from the International Convention of Chabad Emissaries, which took place in Manhattan over the weekend and where he said the Oct. 27 shooting and a proper response to it were discussed.
The plans come less than two weeks after a gunman walked into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh during Shabbat morning services and opened fire, killing 11 people and injuring seven.
The killings, which federal law enforcement officials are prosecuting as hate crimes, shocked the country and reverberated on Long Island, where local houses of worship held vigils in honor of the victims, some of whom were friends and relatives of Long Islanders.
One response to the rampage is that synagogues have heightened security as Nassau and Suffolk police departments have increased patrols.
While Teldon said the rabbis of the Chabad community are satisfied with local law enforcement’s capacity to conduct surveillance and respond in the event of an attack, he stressed that the additional security measures are being taken to protect people in the critical moments before police arrive.
“We have total confidence in their abilities and their response time,” he said. “The problem we are dealing with in terms of an active shooter situation is that it’s in the first two or three minutes that the most damage can be done.”
The Chabad Lubavitch Dix Hills Jewish Chai Center has already hired a guard.
“We had parents who were scared to send their children to Hebrew school because there was no armed guard there to protect them,” Rabbi Yaakov Saacks, co-director of that center, said in a statement. “Our community feels safer and more relaxed. No Jew should ever be fearful to attend synagogue services or Jewish community activities.”
There are 38 Chabad Lubavitch centers on Long Island, comprising 20 Hebrew schools, eight day camps, seven youth group chapters and three college campuses.
“We all have to raise the bar now,” Teldon said, urging donors to give before noon Friday, when the campaign ends. "We want to send a message. Chabad centers will be a safe place to participate in Jewish communal activities and I hope other synagogues will follow as well.”