The Lubavitch Center and Yeshiva Schools always honor an outstanding person at their annual community-wide event known as Melava Malka.
That person is often a teacher, or a parent who is heavily involved in the PTA.
This year, though, after an egregious act of anti-Semitic violence so profoundly rocked the city, the schools decided to honor those who stood — and continue to stand — in defense of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.
The Melava Malka, a meal typically served after the Jewish Sabbath, will celebrate several Pittsburgh police officers who responded to the shooting at Tree of Life in Squirrel Hill the morning of Oct. 27 and engaged the man who is accused of fatally shooting 11 worshippers.
“This has always been a more of an internal event, just an event for our own community,” said Rabbi Chezky Rosenfeld, the schools’ director of development. “But this year we felt that as a community there’s nobody within the community that deserves it more than these first responders that really stepped up to plate for our community in a major way.”
Pittsburgh police Officers Daniel Mead, Michael Smidga and Tyler Pashel, all of whom sustained injuries as they tried to stop the massacre, are expected to attend the event. Rabbi Rosenfeld said other officers have been invited, but it’s unclear if they will be able to attend.
The rabbi said the idea to use the event to honor the officers came after his father, Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, visited Officer Mead in the hospital as he recovered from the shooting.
The younger Rabbi Rosenfeld said a member of the Pittsburgh Lubavitch community who is a personal friend of the Mead family asked if the elder Rabbi Rosenfeld wanted to accompany her to visit Officer Mead in the hospital. The rabbi jumped at the opportunity.
Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld “came to express gratitude for what he had done — this guy literally took a bullet for the Jewish community — and [Officer Mead’s] reaction was like, ‘I was just doing my job. That’s just what we do.’ And it left a really strong impression on [the rabbi],” the younger Rabbi Rosenfeld said.
The event will also honor Chaya Engle, the administrative director at the early learning center at Yeshiva, who also serves as director of security for the organization.
Rabbi Rosenfeld said that since the shooting Ms. Engle has been able to give the Lubavitch community a sense of calm, and the feeling “that we are in good hands and we have the proper safety and security procedures in place.”