Barely three hours after the massive acts of terrorism began unspooling in the East on Sept. 11, officials at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles representing an array of affiliated departments, agencies and partners assembled to discuss emergency strategies to help those affected by the rapidly unfolding events.
An impromptu meeting of high level executives of the Jewish Federation and its network of beneficiary agencies and departments was convened early Tuesday morning at the 11th floor executive offices of the Federation's Wilshire Boulevard headquarters "to go over with all the agencies how to disseminate the information to the community," said Michele Kleinert, speaking for The Federation. "The primary focus and concern is our staff and community."
John Fishel, the Jewish Federation's president, met with a group that included William Bernstein, Financial Resource Development executive vice president; Mark Diamond, Board of Rabbis of Southern California executive vice president; Nina Lieberman Giladi, Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles' (JCCGLA) executive vice president; Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE)'s Gil Graff, director, and David Ackerman, director of educational services; Paul Castro, Jewish Family Service executive director; and the Jewish Community Relations Committee's Michael Hirschfeld, executive director, and Elaine Albert, assistant director.
The members regrouped at 3 that afternoon to touch base on efforts to coordinate various services, such as blood drives and psychological and spiritual counseling, and organize resources at agencies, day schools and community centers. Many synagogues also scheduled community vigils by day's end.
"Everybody was here; people were concerned," Fishel said. "They were helpful on thinking through the issues. Everyone feels how fortunate it didn't occur in L.A., but our service system is ready to go."
Except for key internal staff, the 6505 Wilshire Blvd. building, on the advice of law enforcement and fire department officials, was closed for the day. Federation officials said this constituted a general suggestion for major buildings in the city and was not because of its Jewish link. The majority of the Federation's 400 hundred employees were sent home Sept. 11, and returned to work Sept. 12.
"Right now, the community is trying to bring its available resources together," Graff said. "The BJE is in the process of contacting its schools to advise them of the availability of the Jewish Family Service and other agencies that can provide support."
Ackerman cited the need for "curricular support; how do you curricularize a tragedy such as this?"
On Wed., Sept. 12, the Federation convened a meeting of top local law enforcement officials, rabbis and other Jewish institutional leaders to discuss security surrounding the upcoming High Holy Days (see story, page 12). In the afternoon, the interfaith Council of Religious Leaders met at 6505 Wilshire. The Council includes Board of Rabbi executive director Diamond, Rabbi Alan Henkin of Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Rev. Samuel Chetti of American Baptist Churches of Los Angeles, Bishop Mary Ann Swenson of United Methodist Church, and American Orthodox Church Diocese Vatche Housepian, among others.
"We are meeting to express our sorrow, our sadness, our shock and our outrage as the religious leaders of the major faith communities," Diamond told The Journal. "We condemn the perpetrators of these horrific crimes and lend our support to President Bush and elected officials to bring those responsible for these terrorist attacks to justice. As religious leaders, our thoughts and prayers go out to victims, families, and all those whose lives were shattered, as of yesterday."
The Board of Rabbis leader called on "all the citizens of Los Angeles to join together in prayer, reflection and solidarity. We want our community to join us in turning away from dangerous rhetoric and hateful stereotypes and turn toward the tasks that face our nation in this dark hour." In the meantime, the Federation's parent organization, United Jewish Communities (UJC), announced it was cancelling the Sept. 23 New York solidarity rally for Israel.
At press time, with very few victims identified and little information available, it was too early for The Federation to help Angelenos with specific connections to victims at the sites of destruction or aboard the L.A.-bound planes involved. But Federation officials said they will be ready to assist when this inevitable grim task arrives in the coming days.
"There's no information at this point," Fishel said. "So it will probably be within 24 to 48 hours before we have clarity."
For now, Federation officials were as stunned and saddened as the rest of us, and reacting as parents and community members, speaking from the heart. "I have a teenager she's very scared this morning," Fishel said. "This is a terrible tragedy for the United States of America," Bernstein said.