In the aftermath of the Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill community, Bexley officials say the city has taken steps to ensure that all residents are safe and feel welcome in the community, regardless of faith or ethnicity.
Eleven people died when a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue and opened fire on people gathered for sabbath services and a baby-naming ceremony. Robert Gregory Bowers faces numerous federal and state charges in the killing of those 11 and wounding of six others, including four police officers.
Bexley's 43209 ZIP code is home to five synagogues: Congregation Torat Emet, 2375 E. Main St.; Congregation Agudas Achim, 2767 E. Broad St.; Congregation Ahavas Sholom, 2568 E. Broad St.; Columbus Community Kollel, 2513 E. Main St; and Beth Jacob Synagogue, 1223 College Ave. Two synagogues in Columbus are in proximity to Bexley: Congregation Tifereth Israel, 1354 E. Broad St., and Temple Israel, 431 E. Broad St.
"Bexley is not unlike Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh," said Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler. "It's an area that, early on in our history, became an enclave of safety and a welcoming community to the Jewish population.
"Our hearts are with the community of Squirrel Hill. Our hearts are broken over what's happened and we are determined to, in any way possible, prevent anything like that from ever happening in Bexley," he said.
The city maintains contact with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Columbus Division of Police Department personnel who respond to terrorist threats, Kessler said.
City officials also "work really closely with synagogues in Bexley and the Jewish organizations that assist them with their security," he said. "We have a foundational, strong working relationship when it comes to security."
The Department of Homeland Security alerted Bexley as the events of Oct. 27 unfolded in Pittsburgh, Kessler said.
"We immediately ramped up security in response to that and paid extra attention to synagogues in Bexley," he said. "We are continuing to provide them with any support that they need. It's incredibly important to us that we maintain that close working relationship and provide that security."
The Bexley Police Department has made training for incidents involving an active shooter a priority for the past 10 years, said police Chief Larry Rinehart.
"We actually train quarterly on foundational tactics and we periodically train with other agencies in the central Ohio area," he said. "In addition, we have upgraded individual equipment in direct support of our active-shooter response planning. Bexley officers are equipped and trained better now than in any time in our history. We will continue to evaluate, adjust and prepare to the maximum level of our resources."
The police department is prepared to respond to threats that endanger public safety in religious institutions, schools and other venues, Rinehart said.
"Protecting our synagogues and our Jewish community is always a top priority, but so is our plan to respond to every other Bexley house of worship, as well as our public and private schools," he said. "None of them are immune from the modern threat."
Bexley city officials, community organizations and schools work cooperatively to create an environment that promotes diversity, said Bexley City Council President Lori Ann Feibel.
"As a Catholic woman married to a Jewish man, I cannot imagine a better place to raise my children. I feel as though our community goes beyond tolerance," she said.
"Religious diversity is part of the fabric of who we are. We publicly celebrate various religious holidays together, our school district closes its doors out of respect for significant religious holidays, and the city makes every effort to schedule events keeping our diversity in mind," she said.
In a Nov. 1 email to members of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus, JCC board of trustees President Jennifer Cammeyer and Executive Director Carol Folkerth said they have been in continuous contact with law enforcement to ensure security at the JCC Main Campus, 1125 College Ave.; JCC New Albany, 150 E. Dublin-Granville Road; and JCC North, 6121 Olentangy River Road.
The JCC Main Campus hosted an Oct. 28 prayer vigil for the victims of the Pittsburgh tragedy, planned a Nov. 4 unity dance to promote tolerance, and will be donating proceeds throughout November from the sale of Challahs (Jewish bread) to the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh's Victims of Terror Fund, Folkerth said. The JCC will proceed with its annual film festival and numerous other cultural and recreational activities, she said.
"There's so much here that's positive," she said. "It offers a space to be together in good times, we hope, and in bad times."
Columbus Dispatch reporter Jim Woods contributed to this story.