As the credits rolled on the screen, the audience in Park City sat in complete silence except for the sound of a sniffle and the crumpling of a tissue. Community members gathered Thursday night at the city’s library to watch a screening of HBO’s “A Tree of Life” hosted by the United Jewish Federation of Utah and Secure Community Network.

Steve Weiss, survivor of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, was part of a panel that included security experts, law enforcement and a Jewish community center official. The focus of the discussion that followed the screening was how communities can prepare in the face of threats. Panelists emphasized the importance of being trained to run, hide and fight in active shooter situations as well as the practical security measures the Jewish community must now take.

As participants walked into the auditorium where the screening was held, they passed two police officers.

“With the rise in antisemitism and hate-based crimes, community safety and security have become so important to members of faith-based and identity-based communities,” said Alex Shapiro, executive director of the United Jewish Federation of Utah. “The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting documentary is not only a reminder of the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in our country, but really a testament to a community that came together in its aftermath and the importance of preparedness and resilience.”

The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting took place on Oct. 27, 2018, when Weiss and other members of three congregations were worshipping at the Tree of Life synagogue. A man open fired and murdered 11 people that day. The documentary includes interviews with survivors, including Weiss. It discusses the rise of antisemitism and hate-based crimes, and also shows how the community began the process of healing.

Survivors in the documentary described the ways that their lives had changed not only from losing their loved ones, but also losing a sense of security. Audrey Glickman said the clothing she wore the day of the shooting didn’t have large enough pockets for her phone so when she went to hide, she left it on the pew.

Both in the documentary and in an interview with the Deseret News afterward, Weiss spoke about what could have been different for him about that day.

“One Saturday a month, we didn’t have a junior congregation for our children. The other three Saturday mornings we did,” said Weiss, adding that the Saturday of the mass shooting, the junior congregation was not present. His son would have been sitting in the front lobby if they had.

It’s part of the reason Weiss emphasizes the importance of ensuring congregations and communities are trained on how to respond during active shootings. When the shooting in Pittsburgh happened, Weiss said he knew he needed to get out of the room he was in, and without training, he said, “I would have knelt down by the back pew.” Everyone who remained in the room he was in either was murdered or injured.

“Where I get hope is that if enough of us learn what we can do, then we can join together and really make things safer,” said Weiss.

Leading off the panel discussion, Weiss said anyone, at any time, in any place could end up in an active shooter situation. “And the only chance that we truly have to take control of what’s happening or ourselves is go through training, learn what you can do, so that you have a better response.”

Brad Orsini, senior national security adviser at Secure Community Network, said, “Days are gone where we can rely on law enforcement solely.”

Steve Weiss of the Tree of Life Synagogue wears a blue ribbon before a panel discussion and a screening of HBO’s "A Tree of Life" hosted by the United Jewish Federation of Utah and Secure Community Network at Park City Film in Park City on Thursday, May 9, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

Orsini added that law enforcement does its job well, but security needs to be taken seriously. “We can no longer afford to have security as a luxury. It needs to be a line item budget in all our facilities.” Synagogues across the country, including in Utah, pay for security outside their Sabbath worship services to keep congregants safe.

Barrie McAllister, chief operating officer at the Jewish Community Center in Salt Lake City, spoke about the security measures the center has adopted. The doors are double locked, and new guests have to be let in by the front desk. On the days when the center is closed, local law enforcement does drills there so in the case of an emergency situation, they are already familiar with the space.

Dave McKean, Utah Jewish community security adviser at Secure Community Network, spoke about how important it is to become situationally aware. He said it’s his mission to keep the Jewish community and other communities safe. Having the right information can help him make better decisions.

McKean also said he’s focused on how individual facilities and congregations are handling security. “Should we keep our door open? What’s the balance between being inviting and being a fortress?”

Summit County Sheriff Frank Smith said that during his 42 years of law enforcement, he hasn’t been as troubled as he has been during the last three to five years — particularly about schools and places of worship. He said the Summit County Sheriff’s Office can help train residents if they call the nonemergency number.

In an interview after the panel discussion, Orsini spoke to the Deseret News about difficulties the Jewish community faces.

“It’s a sad commentary that we have to think about security so that we can go and pray,” said Orsini. For the last few years, antisemitism has risen — not just in terms of hateful comments. “This is just not general hate speech. This is targeted speech. ... We have to think about security. It’s no longer a luxury.”

He later said that people of faith can help the Jewish community feel more safe by being with them, reporting incidents of hate and not tolerating signs of hate.

Weiss also spoke to the Deseret News about how people of faith can support the Jewish community.

“When the Tree of Life shooting took place, the very first group that stepped up to give us was the Islamic community of Pittsburgh,” Weiss said. Wasi Mohamed spearheaded an effort within the Muslim community to fundraise enough money so none of the victims’ families had to worry about paying the bills for funerals.

Weiss said that since that time, the congregation hasn’t used the synagogue. “We are meeting in another synagogue right now, but for our high holiday services, we meet at the Calgary Episcopal Church.”

“Enjoy the differences that we have, but also the similarities we have,” said Weiss. “And build ourselves into a community instead of this group being isolated from this group.”