In light of Colleyville attack, House committee to discuss nonprofit security grants

Last month, a gunman entered Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville and took the congregants present hostage.

 The attack on a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, will be on the minds of congregants across the country this Saturday as they gather for services.  (photo credit: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES)
The attack on a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, will be on the minds of congregants across the country this Saturday as they gather for services.
(photo credit: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES)

WASHINGTON – The House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Emergency Preparedness and Communication will meet on Tuesday to discuss the Nonprofit Security Grant Program and protecting houses of worship. The hearing comes on the heels of last month’s antisemitic terrorist attack on Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas.

Since the attack, numerous Jewish organizations have urged Congress to double the Nonprofit Security Grants Program (NSGP) budget. The program allows houses of worship and other nonprofits at risk to apply for grants of up to $100,000 each. The money can be used for security measures such as fences, cameras, stronger doors and personnel hiring. The project’s current budget is $180 million annually, and Jewish organizations have been lobbying Congress to increase it to $360m.

The hearing will feature community leaders such as Jewish Federations of North America CEO Eric Fingerhut and Chabad of South Orlando Rabbi Yosef Konikov.

“We look forward to sharing with the subcommittees the impact that the work of our local communities, federations and SCN have when we collaborate,” said Michael Masters, CEO and national director of the Secure Community Network, one of the witnesses set to appear before the committee.

“Federal funds that have funded security have been a vital part of our work to enhance the safety of our communities – from physical security to training,” he said. “We saw the impact that quality training provided in Colleyville. We need to ensure every synagogue and every Jewish facility has access to the same quality efforts and programs. While need outpaces demand, we look forward to sharing with the subcommittees how their support of NSGP cannot just make a difference, but can help save lives.”

 AN ARMORED law enforcement vehicle is on the scene near Congregation Beth El in Colleyville, Texas, on January 15, as a gunman held hostages inside. (credit: Shelby Tauber/Reuters) AN ARMORED law enforcement vehicle is on the scene near Congregation Beth El in Colleyville, Texas, on January 15, as a gunman held hostages inside. (credit: Shelby Tauber/Reuters)

Another witness will be Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who was one of four people taken hostage at the congregation last month.

“Reform, Conservative or Orthodox – those who hate Jews do not distinguish among us,” Cytron-Walker said in a statement. “Antisemitic attacks and incidents have increased throughout the country. The Jewish community is concerned, and we are struggling. We know we are not alone. There have been terrible moments of harassment, violence and bloodshed at churches and mosques. Every religion has experienced challenging moments or tragedy. Now is the time to invest the resources necessary to help worshipers feel and be safe in their sacred homes.”

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of 174 lawmakers sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Homeland Security voicing support for the funding increase.

“As you finalize the Fiscal Year 2022 Homeland Security Appropriations bill, we respectfully ask you to fund NSGP at a level that reflects increased risks to the nonprofit sector,” they wrote.

“We urge you to ensure the NSGP has robust funding to meet the increasing and extraordinary needs of at-risk populations at a time of heightened threat to faith-based and charitable organizations,” the lawmakers added.

The armed attack in Colleyville could easily have ended tragically, they said.

“This attack targeted the Jewish community and underscored the rise in extremists posing a threat to the Jewish community and to other religious, racial and ethnic groups. It was one of many incidents reported this past year of racially and ethnically motivated violence that continues to target faith- and community-based organizations, including shooting, arson, bombing, assault and property damage.”

They went on to say that they are worried that these types of events “serve as a catalyst to energize more extremists and terrorist groups to act in kind.”

“Congress established NSGP to improve the physical security and security activities of at-risk faith-based and charitable organizations,” they continued. “These organizations often cannot alone shoulder the investments required to deter, detect and prevent violent extremist attacks. For this reason, and in recognition of the increased threat environment under which these organizations must navigate, we respectfully encourage you to increase the NSGP funding in FY2022.”