yeshiva

Yeshiva Toras Chaim is located in the West Colfax neighborhood of Denver and is part of the historic center of the city’s Jewish community.

On Aug. 17, 2021, five men broke into Yeshiva Toras Chaim in Denver, Colorado and attacked the students and rabbis learning there. Shmuel Silverberg, a 19-year-old boy from Cleveland, was killed.

While this attack happened more than 800 miles away, the news shook several Jews in Arizona; three of the boys attending the yeshiva are Phoenix natives.

In the aftermath of the shooting, students, teachers and parents gathered their thoughts and tried to process what this attack meant for their children, their students, their friends, themselves and the community as a whole.

Binyamin Brumer, a Scottsdale native who now studies at the Yeshiva of Waterbury, Connecticut, heard about the shooting online and began worrying about students from Greater Phoenix living there. He immediately began doing more research to figure out what had happened and if everyone was OK. But “no one really had any information,” he said.

As someone who lives away from home, this incident made him doubt his school’s security. But at the end of the day, “it’s very difficult to stop someone with a gun whose intentions are to hurt others,” he said.

He pointed out that “every tragedy like this affects the entire Jewish community.” But it hit closer to home for Brumer because he knows some boys attending the yeshiva.

Many children across the country feared for their friends in Denver. And several parents were scared for their children, some of whom are far from home and just starting school.

Sunny Levi, who lives in Phoenix and whose son attended the yeshiva where the shooting occurred, said that she was “in complete shock” when her son told her about what happened.

“He had to tell me three times,” she said.

Levi immediately knew that she had to travel to Denver to make sure her son was OK and to take him home. When she arrived, they walked through the school and her son walked her through all the places where the attack had taken place.

“He showed me a tour of every bullet hole,” she said. He created a kind of play-by-play of the night’s events.

Levi said that the attack raised concerns about the security at both her son’s out-of-state yeshiva as well as the day school her younger children attend.

Levi voiced her concerns about children’s reactions to news of shootings and wondered if it is the best idea to tell them. She believes there is really only one way to keep schools safe.

“I think having security all the time is the best bet,” she said.

Rabbi Gavriel Goetz, Yeshiva High School of Arizona’s head of school, thought a lot about the security of his own school after hearing about the attack in Denver.

“When we originally built the building, we built it bulletproof in the front — there’s a gate around the whole building,” he said.

Although his building already has adequate security, he still wondered whether something additional was necessary and asked the yeshiva’s board of directors if anything could be improved to provide a safer environment for the students.

Goetz also changed the rules about leaving campus during the school day. Now, students must have explicit permission from their parents as well as check out in the main office.

In addition, the yeshiva has held drills for possible threats and hosted speakers to talk about what to do in such an event.

“Once you’re dealing with somebody that’s crazy, they’ll find a way to get to you,” said Goetz. But, he added, “I don’t believe we’re supposed to be scared in life.”

When you run a religious Jewish school, that point is highlighted even further. Many Jewish students, teachers and parents must worry about threats to their children, students or friends, more so than other schools simply because of their religion.

“As far as an antisemitic (attack), it’s always an issue,” Goetz said.

In a recent study released by the FBI, it was revealed that 57.5% of religiously-motivated hate crimes committed during 2020 were against Jews, who make up less than 2% of the U.S. population.

“This could have been any school. This could have been here.” Levi said. JN