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Faith Leaders Walk A Fine Line Balancing An 'Open Door Policy' With Lingering Fears, Safety Concerns


The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh led more than 120 security trainings in the year leading up to the deadly mass shooting at Tree of Life in October, including an active shooter drill at the synagogue just weeks before.

Ideas about assessments, locks, cameras and even armed guards were being floated long before suspected gunman Robert Bowers opened fire, said federation security director Brad Orsini.

Credit Alex Lenigan / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh security director Brad Orsini stands outside the WESA studios on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019.

“It’s a house of worship; it has to be open, it has to be welcome,” Orsini said, but it also has to be safe. Orsini, who worked with the FBI for 28 years, noted several high-profile church shootings in recent memory.

He's among a small group consulting local faith leaders trying to keep their communities safe without turning their houses of worship into fortresses.   

The shooting at Tree of Life also resulted in an outpouring of support for victims. South Side advocacy group ACHIEVA has collected nearly $90,000 from people inspired by brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal, who died in the shooting. The pair were beloved at ACHIEVA, which supports people with disabilities and their families.

Communication director Lisa Razza said the money will honor others who are involved in their communities the way that the Rosenthals were.

Elsewhere in the program, the University of Pittsburgh’s first black female graduate, Dr. Jean Hamilton Walls, is on the short list of women of color whose likenesses are being considered as a replacement for the controversial Stephen Foster figure that once stood in Oakland. She graduated from Pitt in 1910, became a civic leader and later returned for her doctorate degree.

And Pittsburgh's winter Restaurant Week begins Monday. Hear from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette restaurant critic Melissa McCart about what restaurants to check out, what spots to avoid and where she hopes to go.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators join veteran journalist Kevin Gavin, taking an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.
Megan Harris is a writer, editor, photographer and curator for Pittsburgh's NPR News station. She leads editorial coverage for The Confluence, 90.5 WESA's live, one-hour, daily morning news show.
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