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Columbus Synagogues Increase Security Following Pittsburgh Shooting

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Ohio State Wexner Jewish Student Center
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Ohio State Wexner Jewish Student Center

This weekend's mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, which left 11 dead and several others injured, spurred Jewish leaders in Central Ohio to step up their security measures.

The Wexner Jewish Student Center at Ohio State University decided to add security for a scheduled program Sunday night.

"We did have a special event last night, and just as a precaution we did have a special duty Columbus Police uniformed officer here, just so the students felt more comfortable I think, not that we felt any additional threat,” says Joan Koebel, director of operations at the Hillel Foundation at Ohio State.

Koebel says the center received a $50,000 state grant last year to upgrade security cameras and add electronic locking devices during emergency alerts on campus. That money was part of a $1.3 million state grant for Central Ohio synagogues and other Jewish organizations to improve security.

“We had some video camera equipment on the exterior of the building, so we improved and updated that," Koebel says. "Took some angles that we didn’t have in the original plan. We hadn’t updated the cameras for example in many years.”

Koebel says the student center must stay alert against any violence.

“We’re pretty vigilant all the time, but we are a student center and we try to be welcoming and open as much as we can," says Koebel.  "But, during High Holidays, that’s a time that we automatically have heightened security. It’s just kind of how it is now for any religious organization.”

Joel Marcovitch, CEO of Jewish Columbus, says that most synagogues and Jewish-related organizations do not discuss any changes they've made to security.

"I know that each of our partner agencies and our synagogues have been in touch with local law enforcement to address their security concerns, and the amazing people of the local law enforcement as well as national law enforcement agencies have been in touch, and each of them are discussing their individual plan," Marcovitch says.

Marcovitch says while these days require a heightened alert, it will not change the Jewish people.

“No lone individual is going to rip ourselves away from the fabric of what we believe is the idea of what America should be, which is a tolerant, respectful place that people should be coming together in love and harmony and talking about how they can help each other and not divide each other," he says.