NORTH STRABANE – In the year since the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue left 11 congregants dead, Pittsburgh has become an “epicenter of anti-Semitism.”
That was the sobering assessment offered Tuesday morning by Brad Orsini, the director of Jewish community security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. A former FBI agent, Orsini explained at a conference of law-enforcement officials at the DoubleTree Pittsburgh Meadow Lands hotel that white supremacists around the United States and elsewhere in the world discuss the Tree of Life shooter in heroic terms.
Because of the continuing vulnerability of the Jewish community, both in this region and elsewhere, Orsini said the most important thing law enforcement and other officials can do is train people to survive if they are confronted with someone like the Baldwin man who broke into the synagogue during Saturday morning services Oct. 27, 2018, and began firing.
“There is no such thing as too much training,” Orsini said. “The whole goal is to educate citizens on their response.”
Orsini described how the Tree of Life shooting unfolded, its aftermath, and lessons he and other officials learned from it. He conceded that, in an open society, it’s all but impossible to fully eliminate all threats.
“People die, and our goal is to minimize the loss of life,” he said. “We need to educate our community, and reduce anxiety in our community.”
Orsini signed on as security director for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh in 2017. The training sessions he carries out within the community emphasize being empowered and taking action, he said.
“It’s really hard to hit a moving target,” he said.
The conference at the DoubleTree was organized by the Pennsylvania chapter of Friends of Safe Schools U.S.A. The conference, which was held Monday and Tuesday, focused on threat assessment and included talks by Orsini, former white supremacist Arno Michaelis and other experts. The group hosted a conference in Washington County earlier this year that focused on school safety and featured the mother of a student killed at the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.