Facing increasing attacks, more security funding needed for US synagogues

Several key figures in the community agreed Sunday that while a lot has been done since the Pittsburgh shooting last October, there are still many challenges with funding of security and training.

By OMRI NAHMIAS
April 30, 2019 01:43
4 minute read.
A San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputy secures the scene in Poway, California

A San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputy secures the scene of a shooting incident at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, north of San Diego, California, U.S. April 27, 2019. (photo credit: JOHN GASTALDO/REUTERS)

 
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WASHINGTON - The day after the horrifying attack on Chabad synagogue in San Diego, the discussion about the challenges that the Jewish community is facing regarding the security of institutions such as schools and synagogues has resurfaced.

Key community figures agreed Sunday that while a lot has been done since the Pittsburgh shooting last October, there are still many challenges with funding of security and training in local communities.

Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, told the Jerusalem Post that his organization advocated for increasing allocations of federal and local funding for security in Jewish institutions.

"A decade ago we helped create the federal nonprofit security grant program to which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) gives grants," he added. "We got a record $60 million allocated to last year's budget and then again this year. And those applications for this year's money, DHS just put out an announcement a couple of weeks ago inviting application, this is going on right now."

He added that he's currently lobbying to increase that amount to $75 million next year.

"We've also been working in some key states like New York, New Jersey and Florida to work with the state governments and they have allocated tens of millions of dollars to support security needs," Diament continued.

Speaking about the shooting in San Diego, Diament told the Post that there is legislation currently pending in Sacramento for an additional $15 million allocation from the state of California.

"We're also regularly working with their synagogue and our school in terms of coordination with their local police department," he added.

When asked how much money is needed nationwide to improve security for Jewish institutions, Diament said that "it's hard to put a number on it, but I would say that we still have a long way to go. I would say that for the institutions that we work with, it's a challenge, but that's why we're helping them."

"The federal money that we've gotten over the years, including this year, can be used for physical security improvement like fences and surveillance cameras, but you're not able to use the federal budget for keeping a salaried security guard. So that's why in the past few years we've been working with the state government to get them to allocate money to pay for the salaries, a security guard; we're having a good amount of success with that. Maryland started to allocate some money for that."

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told the Post that the massacre in Pittsburgh was a turning point, adding that the awareness regarding the possibility of violent attacks against Jewish institutions has increased.


"It shocked people to the core, and it made people pay more attention to it," he said.

Hoenlein stressed that several Jewish institutions, not only synagogues but also schools, are struggling to pay large amounts of money for security.

"Individual institutions are taking precautions, and in addition, local Anti-Defamation League (ADL) regional offices are working with local federation to assist them with digital security," Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL's CEO told the Post, adding that law enforcement authorities are also partners in the struggle to assure security.

Michael Masters, the national direction and CEO of Secure Community Network, a non-profit organization that addresses matters of Jewish communal sefety and security in the US, pointed out the different ways to increase security in communities.

"One of the most important things that we can do as a community costs very little money is training," he told the Post. "And it is that sort of investment which has innumerable and measurable benefits. The training that the federation security director provided in Pittsburgh's Tree of Life encouraged rabbi Myers to carry his cell phone on October 27, and he was the one that made the first 911 call."

"It was the training that happened at the tree of life less than eight weeks before the attack there, which helped individuals have a plan and know what to do when gunfire erupted," Masters continued. "Some things cost money, and those will be challenges for our community as they are for any community. And we're going to have to make tough choices.

Secure Community was met with an increasing demand for training in the past six months, with over 10,000 individuals participating in webinars and conference calls just within 10 weeks following Pittsburgh.

"I think since Pittsburgh, people are more aware, and they are more proactive," Masters said, adding that "They realize that the phrase that we hear so frequently, 'I never thought it could happen here' People realize that in fact, 'here' is everywhere in this country.

"One of the things that we say - in Israel, we have an iron dome missile defense system that protects the country. What we need in America, the security shield to protect the community," Masters concluded.

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