In response to the tragic shootings of innocent victims, many of them children, in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut this past Friday, Agudath Israel of America has undertaken several steps to help strengthen the security of Jewish schools.
At the dederal level, Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Federal Government Affairs and Washington Director and Counsel, sent President Barack Obama a letter today urging restoration of funding for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program, a program designed to help prevent violence in school settings. Rabbi Cohen explains, “the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program was created and designed to address violent threats to our nation’s schoolchildren. While this is not the only program or approach that should be explored, restoring a successful program that has already been implemented and funded in the past makes sense and, we feel, should be among the steps the government takes now.”
Rabbi Cohen received an immediate encouraging response from the White House, stating that the Vice President’s office will be reaching out to include Agudath Israel in their process. Vice President Biden, a long-time gun control advocate, has been appointed by the President to head up White House efforts to develop gun control policy and lead a multi-agency gun violence policy review.
In New York, Agudath Israel activists are exploring ways to bring new state resources for stronger security measures in yeshivas and other religious institutions. “Enhancing school security is especially important in our community,” said Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, Agudath Israel’s vice president for community services, “and we will push hard in Albany to enlist the State’s support.”
Agudath Israel’s Yeshiva Services Division distributed a memo this week for principals and administrators of yeshivas providing concrete guidance on crisis response and recovery. Included is a guide to Emergency Preparedness Planning, and resources for helping children deal with the traumatic events that have occurred.
Mrs. Deborah Zachai, director of Education Affairs for Agudath Israel, explained, “schools and their staff, as well as parents and students across the country, are reeling from the news. Many reached out to us for information, and we felt that this was an appropriate time to encourage yeshivas to review and update their security plans, make sure to have staff training and student safety drills and enhance the safety procedures in their buildings and campuses.”