August 19, 1999
When Tragedy Strikes…
How the Jewish Federation responded as the North Valley shooting unfolded
For Lois Weinsaft, the Aug. 10 shooting spree at the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC) hit close to home. Too close.
After all, Weinsaft's own daughter, Becky, literally grew up with the Valley Centers.
"Becky called me and said, 'That could have been me as a camper, that could have been me as a counselor,' says Weinsaft, Senior Associate Director of Planning and Allocations at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. "This is really close to home for a family like ours."
From the onset, Weinsaft and Federation staff closely monitored the unfolding situation. Within minutes after Nazi sympathizer Buford O. Furrows opened fire on the Granada Hills day care facility, Weinsaft stepped out of her office to find her colleagues -- including Federation President John Fishel and Director of Marketing and Communications Joyce Sand -- already huddled around a television set.
Sand recalls the surreal experience, as details trickled in both internally and across the airwaves.
"Jack Klein [the Federation's associate executive vice president of operations] immediately deployed our security people out to the site to essentially help the police," recalls Sand. "So within a matter of minutes, people were being deployed."
Those people included Nina Lieberman-Giladi, associate executive vice president of Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles, who drove out to the Episcopal church that doubled as the children's safehaven; and Miriam Prum-Hess, senior associate director of Planning and Allocations at the Federation, who, with Sandra King, director of Jewish Family Service (JFS), and Weinsaft, visited hospitals treating the shooting victims.
"Our primary concern was the safety of the kids, then the notification of the family," says Weinsaft.
However, eliciting precise information on the JCC day campers' whereabouts during the incident became a complicated process.
"They had evacuated some of the kids to the park, some to the church next door," says Weinsaft. "The records were inside in the beginning and, of course, the police wouldn't let people in." Furthermore, most NVJCC kids were out on field trips that morning, visiting destinations that, ironically, included the Museum of Tolerance.
Jan Ballin, director of the San Fernando Valley Adult and Children's Counseling, and Dorie Gradwohl, director of the Valley Storefront, were both immediately dispatched to the scene. However, once they arrived, Weinsaft says that "they couldn't get past police lines. They had to come back." JFS workers returned to the center later in the day, where they met with Department of Mental Health officials (the two agencies have been working together ever since on countering the trauma created by the attempted massacre).
Sally Weber, director of Jewish Community Programs at the Federation-affilliated JFS, has been instrumental in managing crisis counseling groups at NVJCC. In the days since the incident, she has witnessed firsthand the post-traumatic stress.
"One little boy was worried about the bad man and the bad man returning," says Weber.
The shooting not only impacted the young ones, but their families and counselors. And for some, the press camped outside the center following the shooting only exacerbated the atmosphere of unrest.
"Some parents were very angry," says Weber. "Everytime they come through, they're being grabbed."
It became so intrusive that Jeffrey Rouss, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles, banned reporters from the premises and provided parents with instructions on dealing with the media.
Telephoning from the NVJCC, Weber told the Journal that "Friday was probably the hardest day because everybody's adrenaline just crashed. People who had been strong [during the crisis], it finally hit them at the end of the week. It was good that they had the weekend to go home. [By Monday] the mood at the center [was] generally very upbeat. Even if they were frightened to walk in, they're certainly happy to be here. Lots of hugging. Some crying. A lot of parents are hanging around all day."
Fishel promises that "the Federation will continue to work closely into assuring that people that are deeply impacted will get what they need." Among concerns currently being discussed: short term and long term security for Jewish centers and schools.
"I think there was a great deal of conflict as to whether security will isolate us from the broader community," says Fishel. "On the other hand, as we approach the opening of schools and the High Holidays, we are going to go out there and address those issues."
Weinsaft is proud of the way everyone handled the situation.
"The fact that [all agencies] were all together...," says Weinsaft, "was the best demonstration for the need for a central community organization." She adds that, on the day of the shooting, the Federation was flooded with calls from people nationwide expressing sympathy and a desire to help. And as late as Tuesday -- a week after the incident --support continued to flow into the NVJCC in the form of banners, food from churches, even cookies from the policemen's wives.
Weber is encouraged by this profound outpouring by wellwishers, which spans well beyond the Jewish community.
"The effect is that of, what [Furrow] did, he did to all of us and we're not going to let him win," says Weber. "I feel hopeful about that."
Following the North Valley JCC shooting, meetings, a Sunday rally and expressions of support help the community heal.
How the Jewish Federation responded as the North Valley shooting unfolded.
At synagogues throughout L.A., a Sabbath of prayer and support;
1,000 people gathered at the Unity Rally held Sunday, Aug. 15, at Cal State Northridge
Assessing the real danger.
Commander David Kalish; Paramedic Todd Carb.
Editor's Corner--Rob Eshman, Managing Editor: Reaction and Overreaction.
Commentary--Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson:On Being Targeted.